While in the UK, I went out to some other places to give talks -- Liverpool and Cambridge.
At both places I gave my talk on our analysis of the auction site Swoopo, which seemed well received. Of course it's a topic that can appeal to a wide, general audience and is just fun to think about, but the major credit has to go to our student Giorgos Zervas. Not only did I swipe his excellent slides, I even shamelessly adopted some jokes from his presentation, and of course they got the biggest laughs. Maybe I need to get him to prep all my talks. (I also talked about some recent work on networking+hashing at UCL and Cambridge as well. Slides are up at my talks page.)
At Liverpool I was hosted by Leslie Goldberg, and it was great fun to ask her questions about the UK system. One issue that came up is a UK policy to use "short-term economic impact" as one of the bases for research funding decisions. Leslie has rallied against the idea -- she has an interesting web page devoted to the issue with a host of opinions on why it's a bad idea. We also discussed the RAE, the Research Assessment Exercise, where schools are scored and ranked based on their research output, and this affects their future government funding for research. (Here's an article from the Guardian in 2008 when the last results came out.) It's interesting that the NSF does not do something like this, but the link between university funding (apparently, even for research) and the government is perhaps more direct in the UK. It's worth pointing out that Cambridge is at the top overall, and my host institution University College London was 5th in the latest rankings; specifically for computer science, if my info is right, Cambridge is still 1st, UCL is still fifth, and Liverpool is 11th.
At Cambridge I was hosted by Jon Crowcroft at the computer lab and Peter Key of Microsoft. The two building are right next to each other, far from the Cambridge center (about 2 miles). They're just past Churchill college, where I spent almost a year after college, so I got to experience the waves of nostalgia as I walked by. (I would have experienced it even more had I had a bike.) More than nostalgia, I felt a twinge of jealousy -- when I was at Churchill XX years ago, it was far removed from everything. Now it's pretty much at the center of the mathematical sciences complex and the computer science buildings, which have moved out to the outskirts (for space reasons, and so nice new modern buildings could be made for them). Why couldn't they have had that when I was around? Re-visiting Cambridge was also a blast -- it's just a lovely city. Hey, come to think of it, why doesn't someone plan a major conference there (not hard to get to from London airports; I'm pretty sure the main conference could be held at University/Microsoft lecture rooms; hotels, though, are probably quite expensive).