Saturday, August 28, 2010

Doing the Right Thing? (Quick Links Edition)

From Shots in the Dark, a pointer to a new "feature" -- apparently, there's not a tweet system recording and listing books checked out from Harvard libraries.  No, they're not putting names with it, just times.  But who thought this was a bright idea?  Seems like a clear potential privacy-violating nightmare with no upside that I can see.  I'll have to find out who to call on Monday to complain and spread the word to other profs...

From the Crimson, Marc Hauser will be teaching his classes in the Harvard Extension School this year.  Now, in some sense, this isn't a big deal;  Marc's on leave from FAS, and the Extension School is separate from FAS.  And trust me, he won't be getting any huge paycheck from the teaching;  while the Extension school pays its teachers (naturally), I'm sure it's a small fraction of Marc's Harvard salary (which he may or may not be getting;  I haven't heard confirmation one way or another whether he's on paid or unpaid leave).  Given that he's been heralded as a great teacher for a number of years, arguably, why shouldn't he teach?  But I admit, as someone who works with the Extension School, it's leaving me with an uncomfortable feeling that I'm still trying to process. 

Anyone have gossip to tell about why the Crypto 2010 proceedings were put online, but then taken down (apparently once the link got publicized)? 

Scott Aaronson answers some questions for MIT news about the P/NP proof.  I won't opine on whether his bet was a right thing or not (his own blog has had plenty of discussion on that) -- what's wrong with the article is that it has multiple links to Deolalikar's paper that are now non-functioning.  I understand that web-news links aren't going to be kept up to date in perpetuity, but you'd think for this fairly recent article and controversial topic someone might have updated accordingly.  One thing I wonder -- given the unusual amount of press that this proof attempt was given, and the current consensus that it's incorrect and recovery isn't possible, how many people are left with the misinformation that this very important problem was solved?

6 comments:

s said...

Sorry, what's the privacy-violating nightmare with the library check-out information? It seems a nice idea, letting others (well, whoever has enough patience to remain subscribed) know of interesting books that exist and are considered worth checking out by at least one person, and find out more about them — it's the same reason libraries have a "browsery" section: for serendipity. [One downside is that when you know of the tweet, it's already been checked out and you can't borrow it: maybe they should tweet when books are returned. :-)] [BTW, it doesn't seem complete; certain ranges of times are omitted… wonder if this is a "bug" or intentional.]

Would you consider it less a nightmare if it didn't give exact times? I don't know if this feature, though interesting, is actually useful to someone (seems quite a deluge), but I don't yet see any clear reason for wishing it to go away.

Dave Backus said...

On P/NP: as an outsider, I'd say one clear benefit of all this online discussion is that it raised interest in the field with students and others. It's been fascinating, whether or not the proof turns out to have any useful content.

Anonymous said...

I'm just waiting for a student to pipe up in class or in a meeting with something like "but hasn't P != NP been proved?"

M said...

My privacy worry would be that, assuming this was real time, you'd know when and where the person who just checked out the book was. Someone sitting next to the library exit and seeing, An Erotic History of Computer Scientists pop up on the iPhone might then see a furtive patron leave the library, and know who had it. More seriously, imagine that the book were one that was in demand and that, upon leaving the library, you were accosted with, "Hey! I need that book; mind if I borrow it for a few hours?" Worse, imagine someone who just checked out a few hundred dollars worth of books, struggling to bring them home, and having some swiped from him or her by a twitter-following thief. Unlikely? Perhaps. But it's possible.

Anonymous said...

Small typo (but quite confusing for non-native English readers)

there's not a tweet system => there's NOW a tweet system

I agree with M, since there is no upside, it would be better not having it.

Jonathan Katz said...

As far as I know, it was the plan from the beginning to keep the Crypto 2010 proceedings online only for the duration of the conference.