Monday, August 18, 2014

Back to Work

Harvard classes start up in a few weeks, and officially, my sabbatical is over.  I'm back in my office, trying to get back into a Harvard routine.

I notice that I've been very light in posting over my sabbatical.  After my term as chair, I was enjoying being in the background, hidden away a bit.  I'm not sure if I'll get back into blogging -- it seems already to be a technology of the past -- but I figure I'll start again and see what happens.

So some short notes.  On my to-do list is to go cover to cover through Ryan O'Donell's new book Analysis of Boolean Functions; Cambridge University Press was nice enough to send me a free copy, which they do with books from time to time.  For those who have been following he's been releasing the book in chapters online, and you already know it's good.  He's made the book is available online also, but it's nice to have a copy for my bookshelf.  It's a beautiful book, both in content and in how it's all put together.  My one thought (so far) as I've started my way through is that it stylistically, to me, reads like a "math book" more than a "CS book", whatever that means.  That's not meant to be a complaint, just an observation.

Boaz Barak accidentally made me laugh on his Updates from ICM 2014 post, well worth reading, when he writes:
"Candes’s talk was an amazing exposition of the power and importance of algorithms. He showed how efficient algorithms can actually make the difference in treating kids with cancer!....

Hearing Candes’s talk I couldn’t help thinking that some of those advances could perhaps have been made sooner if the TCS community had closer ties to the applied math community, and realized the relevance of concepts such as property testing and tool such as the Geomans-Williamson to these kind of questions. Such missed opportunities are unfortunate for our community and (given the applications) also to society at large, which is another reason you should always try to go to talks in other areas."

I think the larger issue the slow but (over long periods) not really subtle shift of the TCS community away from algorithmic work and practical applications.  I'm all for going to talks in other areas, but I think the issue is a larger scale problem.

I'm working on a new class this semester, which if I write I'm sure I'll write more about, but one thing I'd forgotten is how hard and time-consuming it is to construct a lecture.  Maybe some of it is a function of me getting slower, but going through all the possible pieces, picking what you think are the right ones, making sure you've got all the details, and then (for me) writing a "script" of what you plan to go over -- it takes time.  (Good thing I'll likely be on this new class for a few years.)

Plenty more to talk about -- reviewing, some new/old papers, some summer travel.  So we'll see if I can get back into a blogging state of mind.


vzn said...

"blogging as a technology of the past"? huh? yikes! cmon its cutting edge. what is gonna replace it? twitter? facebook? huh? are those ever gonne have latex plugins? what is indeed difficult as always (or possibly significantly more so) is getting an audience after it is thinly sliced and spread across so many platforms.
as for practical applications, its a bit stunning that mathematicians have been significantly behind compressed sensing advances.
absolutely, lets allow TCS to both fly in the clouds ("castles in the sky"/"ivory tower") and also get dirty & "down to earth"....
more on fields medals/nevanlinna prize

Ben Fulton said...

Any plans for recording and posting lectures?