Monday, December 31, 2007

Theory and Fashion

I often end up using the Google search bar as my navigator, so I've been surprised of late when typing things like "theory cs aggregator" in to see ads with taglines like

Theory at Bloomingdale's
Theory on Sale
Theory Fashions

I didn't know CS theory was popular in the mainstream!

Theory is apparently a New York clothing design firm, and their wares are in most of the major chains (Saks, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom's, etc.) So when you look up anything related to theory, and it's vague enough that Google isn't sure what sort of ad to throw at you, you end with clothing ads. I believe their website is, an address I suppose I should have purchased years ago.

Yes, is taken. (Smart thinking, Kevin...)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

K'Nex Computing

Building an adder out of K'Nex.

I never know what to make of these sorts of stories. While I admire the enthusiasm, is this really what gets these students (and others) excited about computing? Somehow, it seems like the equivalent of writing your own iambic pentameter poetry in Latin. The result should be worthwhile for a small, small number of people.

Yet here I am linking to it.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Women in Theory of Computer Science Meeting

Although it's been well-covered in other blogs, I would be remiss not to mention the workshop for women in theory of computer science being organized at Princeton.

I'm always torn when I hear about such things. I think it's a very good and important idea, but at the same time, I look forward to the day when such workshops won't be necessary (and wonder why we're not there yet).

I do think that peer support is key to getting women into computer science, and having them stay. Some years ago at Harvard we were fortunate to have a group of four very mathematically talented undergraduate women, all of whom apparently had at least met each other in high school, come through the computer science ranks. It was clear that the "group dynamic" of being able to work together and talk with each other was very helpful to them. Three of the four went to graduate school in computer science; two are/have finished (in theory), one switched over to economics. While I have seen many strong women undergraduates come through Harvard, I haven't seen a group quite like this one, and I wish I saw more.

Of course, it also helps to have successful role models, so I suppose now is an apropos time to belatedly congratulate Susanne Albers for winning the Leibniz Prize. I had the great fortune to start working with Susanne while I was a graduate student at Berkeley and she was a postdoc at ICSI. It was a great experience for me, as at the time, I was still figuring out how this whole research thing worked; I learned a lot working with her. I'm thrilled she's getting this outstanding prize and the corresponding recognition for her body of work.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A New Book by Sean Meyn

I've found what to ask for my Cambridge University Press rep for my holiday present -- a new book Control Techniques for Complex Networks by Sean Meyn.

Other new bookshelf suggestions are welcome...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hash Collisions -- Economist Article

The economist has a nice story about recent work on creating documents that yield MD5 collisions.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Harvard Improves Financial Aid

Harvard's is again improving its financial aid policy, as described here and here.

It's not as wacky or ludicrous an idea as not charging anyone tuition, but I'm still glad to hear it. (Wait, this doesn't cut my salary, does it...)

Friday, December 07, 2007

Preparing Students for Jobs

In a recent "discussion" on another blog, I repeatedly heard the refrain that we ivory-tower pie-in-the-sky university computer science professor types just aren't preparing students suitably for "real-world" employment. Personally, I think that's just BS. However, I realize I may have a fairly biased viewpoint. I teach at Harvard, and, if I may say so, our students are generally quite good and do well in the job market. Having spent some time in industry, and, if I may so so, being perhaps more interested than the average theorist about practical issues, I attempt to add "real-world" aspects to my classes, like programming assignments in my undergraduate theory course.

Now occasionally I catch students who admit to reading this blog. I mean all students, from whatever school, undergraduates and graduate students, not just students from my classes or Harvard students. I hope some of you are reading now. Because I'd like to ask you to enlighten me. (That means, for instance, I'll keep quiet on the comments.) Please tell me, in your experience, did your education prepare you for your life after in the real world. (For current students, you can comment on how you feel your education is preparing you.)

While I'd expect you to comment anonymously, I'd ask that you provide salient information where possible. (Harvard student or not, current undergraduate or long-time real-world person, CS or EE or other major, etc.) I'd also greatly enjoy hearing specific comments and criticism regarding my own classes, from any ex-students out there.

And in advance of some annoying anonymous commenter who might feel the need to say how out of touch I must be that I need to find out how students are doing by asking on my blog, please rest assured I have other sources of information (both personal and data-driven) on the subject, but this is, hopefully, an interesting opportunity for me and others to gain more insight.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Graham/Rexford talk on GENI/CCC

The CRA has the slides for a presentation by Susan Graham and Jennifer Rexford at the Grace Hopper Conference: Introducing the Computing Community Consortium. It's a nice talk covering the CCC, GENI, and some of Jennifer's current research.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

SIAM is Spamming Me

Many of us received a note from SIAM today, starting with:

Dear Speaker:

We are so pleased that you are going to be a part of the ACM-SIAM Symposium on Discrete Algorithms (SODA08).

Please be advised SIAM has not yet received your conference registration. Although you may register on-site, SIAM requests you register in advance to confirm presentation of your paper.

I had to search my e-mail, to confirm my memory that I had in fact registered. I sent a note back to the sender explaining I had an e-mail confirmation, and got back this response.

Dear Michael Mitzenmacher,

Please note that this is a mass mailing. It clearly states and the end of the registration reminder

“If you have already registered please disregard this message”.

Indeed it does. But why then send a mass mailing saying clearly at the beginning of the message that they haven't gotten a registration, instead of just sending a reminder that speakers need to register? What makes this SIAM conference person (whose name I'm politely removing) think this is OK? It's not to me. I've sent a complaint, and I plan to complain further to SIAM staff at the conference.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Discussion over at the Complexity Blog...

For those who miss my regularly scheduled program, I'm busy inciting arguments over at the Computational Complexity blog on quiz-style interview....

The regularly scheduled program will return shortly.