Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Humor: Index a la Harper's

Harper's Index is a quirky slice of statistics and often a piece of art. Alas, the archives of Harper's Index seems to be behind subscription, but here is an example and here is a great article on it ("The Index provides a list of about 40 facts centered in a vertical column on one of Harper's front pages. Adjoining facts complement one another as the list meanders through a variety of subjects, at times creating a narrative. The facts are linked through puns, jokes and contrasts; common topics include government expenditures, welfare costs and political poll results."). Anyway, here is what it inspired:
  • On a 35 min call from an iPhone on AT&T's network, how many times does the call drop? Ans: 15
  • On a 35 min call from an iPhone on AT&T's network, what is the longest continuous call? Ans: 13 min.
  • On a 35 min call from an iPhone on AT&T's network, how many calls last less than a min? Ans: 11
  • On a 35 min call from an iPhone on AT&T's network, how many show up as successfully completed calls? Ans: 10
  • On a 35 min call from an iPhone on AT&T's network, how many minutes does AT&T charge using their standard "rounding" technique upto minutes? Ans: 44 min
Finally, why the heck do I use this junk service? Because the iPhone is a white sleek piece of art, and AT&T supports CS research and pays salaries of many of my research colleagues.

Open, streams or apps

I like the culture of open problems and challenges to draw out the talented (shy and recluse, or just normal) researchers.


Friday, June 10, 2011

ACM Awards at FCRC

Michael and Lance have already blogged about the ACM awards, here are some delayed bits.
  • Awards. Leslie Valiant, the Turing award winner, got a standing ovation. He spoke about the early, risky days of STOC when researchers had to "climb the wall of fear that not much science there to be discovered" in CS, and how, as a result, the STOC community was truly open and encouraged new ideas. Will 20 years from now a Turing award winner say that about today's STOC? Craig Gentry thanked Leslie in a meta way, for showing that sometimes one needed messy intermediate computations to prove the eventual, clean theorems. The awards of 2011 had support from companies like Google, Microsoft and IBM. Alfred Spector, ever precise and thoughtful, allowed himself a poetic moment when he said (paraphrased), "CS is in the heart of Google, we hope to remain in the heart of CS". On a personal note, I spent the evening admiring the constellation of great fellows from Dan Spielman to Michael Jordan, Christos Faloutsos, Fernando Pereira, Jennifer Chayes, Subhash Suri, Phil Klein, Amr Abadi and others, congratulations to them!
  • ACM: The programming contest had about 20k students from 2k schools across 80+ countries. Wow. ACM has 100k+ members.
  • Attire. It was good to see researchers like Lance carry a Tux superbly. I had to get something pronto from the local mall. In the final moments, I realized I needed a belt, and in what proved to be a great detour, bought a skateboarder belt with hand-drawn art from the fantastic Circle-A shop, and got some tips for skater music cafe. San Jose has its edge(s)!
  • All else. Conversation at my table involved words like Mimesis, books like "In the realm of hungry ghost", ageism in awards if any, etc.


After W8F

After W8F, I had to detox some. Went for a walk in the neighborhood and saw this window display of office chair bottoms in Soho. Turns out display is to celebrate the book, A Taxonomy of Office Chairs, by Jonathan Olivares at the Phaidon. "Olivares begins his survey at the beginning of the 1840s, a period agreed upon to have seen the origins of modern business management, and ends it in the present. Over this period he has selected 184 of the most innovative office chairs from the thousands that have been designed and manufactured. This rigorous selection process has been underpinned by one rule; only chairs that have introduced at least one innovation have been included." With historical notes, technical drawings and photographs, the author presents his impressive research.

ps: I took a picture with my iphone which alas died since beyond factory restore, and I was happy to discover an identical picture here.

Workhop on Sparsity, Coding, and Complexity

Workshop on Coding, Complexity and Sparsity will be at Ann Arbor, Aug 1--4, 2011. It is organized by Anna Gilbert, S Muthukrishnan, Hung Ngo, Ely Porat, Atri Rudra, Martin Strauss. The basic premise is that there has been a lot of nice interaction between coding and complexity theories, and a fledgling interaction between sparse representation and coding theories; academic research will be far richer exploring more of the connections between sparse representation and coding theories, as well as, between sparse representation and complexity theories. Could there be a general structural complexity theory of sparse representation problems and could techniques from algorithmic coding theory help sparse representation problems?

Let us get researchers from different areas together in a dagstuhl-like setting and explore the question. There will be tutorials, talks and time to research. Anna and Martin lead local arrangements, Atri is quarterbacking the effort, and I am playing the data stream researcher, highlighting the role of both upper and lower bounds from data streams that apply to sparse approximation and coding problems.