Category Archives: Discussion

Theory Lunch Food

As I’m sure you all have noticed, we’ve been having either Bagel Factory sandwiches or Napoli pizza at every theory lunch this semester. As one of the co-organizers, ordering the same thing every week makes my life easier, but even I’m getting a little sick of it. So if anyone has any suggestions for food, please let me know, either by e-mail or in the comments. The only constraint is that, including delivery and tip, it can’t cost more than 200 dollars and has to feed about 30-35 people (we like to err on the side of having extra food rather than running out). We also like to have some veggie stuff for you vegetarians and some meat stuff for the rest of us. We’ve been ordering from Wheel Deliver since they’re used to dealing with the University and it’s nice to have a centralized place to order everything, so ideally we’d keep using them, but I’m open to other suggestions too. So please, give me some ideas, since otherwise we’ll probably just keep alternating between sandwiches and pizza. I’d even be interested in whether you like the sandwiches or the pizza more. I know that I prefer the pizza, but apparently a fair number of people disagree with me.

See you all at lunch on Wednesday!

Conference Talk Scheduling

I think we should make an active effort to avoid scheduling speakers from abroad to give talks in the last session, or perhaps even the one before that. I don’t know if this is entirely possible, but I feel bad when a fellow researcher, having flown all the way from half a globe away, has to give the last talk with a mostly empty room.

I know someone has to be in the last session. So yes, I will volunteer if we are to prevent this from happening again. My guess is that many of us in the community share this view too.

Services at a Conference

This week I am recollecting what services I enjoyed at past conferences, and perhaps more importantly, what services I would like them to have but they didn’t. By “services”, I mean things that are mostly for the convenience of the attendees. Traditional things like “local maps” and “unlimited supply of bottled water” (*) are in this category, but specialties like “a blog set up for the conference” are also OK. (AAAI did it.)

Note that I am *not* in charge of the Local Arrangements of FOCS 2005, so I can’t guarantee anything. But I can guarantee that your inputs will be heard. In fact, I imagine such a list can be useful to organizers of any conference, so consider my posting of this right before FOCS merely a coincidence. :P

To make this post extensible, I guess I am going to use the threaded-comments feature and post my day-dreaming one at a time. Please feel free to chip-in yours. It can only make better conferences.

Note also that there is an RSS feed for the comments on this site, so you don’t have to come back to check the comments.

(*) I don’t necessarily think the latter is a good thing due to environmental concerns, but it does have its appeal over cups… Plus, the hotel may not like the idea unless you order from them at their price…

AMS Sectional Meeting

I’m just wondering if anyone from CMU is planning to go to the AMS Sectional Meeting held in Johnson City, TN on Oct 15-16.

See link:

Right now, I haven’t decided whether I’m going or not. So, if you’re planning or just considering to go, please drop me an email.


Theory Town Meeting?

Although the first theory lunch of the year won’t be until September 14, I’ve received a suggestion that we could hold a lunch and town meeting of sorts on the 7th. This would be an opportunity to meet the new members of our community, hear about the theory courses being offered this semester, and discuss various topics of general interest. In particular, there has been a bit of talk about various note-taking and audience feedback schemes we might want to try out at theory lunch.

So… town meeting? Yea or nay? If people are interested and would actually attend, I’ll try and set something up. If and when I do set something up, I’ll send out an announcement.

Talks in Portrait Mode

Have you ever seen people giving talks in portrait mode? I think all presentation softwares default to landscape mode since the projectors are usually in landscape. So the choice is deliberate.

Here is a calculation. A 4:3 display at 1024*768 has 786432 pixels. If we maintain the 4:3 aspect ratio in landscape, that would be 768*(768/4*3)=768*576 = 442368 pixels, a 43% decrease. Now the speaker may have actually used an aspect ratio of 11:8.5 because of letter sized paper, but I wouldn’t be able to tell since that gives 768*(768/11*8.5)=768*593=455424, still 42%.

So I am curious, why would anyone not want to use those 40% of the available pixels? Do you know what the reason may be?

Theory Matters and TheoryMatters.Org

Since STOC 2005, there has been a lot of discussion about theory funding and a task force has been set up by SIGACT to work on advocacy issues.

To start, you are referred to the post by Suresh Venkatasubramanian and a slightly later post by Lance Fortnow. Make sure you read the comment by Michael Mitzenmacher for a clarification on the purpose of the task force, directly from a task force member.

Let the message spread.

P.S. Jeff Erickson has an interesting post about basic research funding too.

Depth through Breadth?

Over the years I have heard many opinions from graduate students about going to talks not related to their research interests. My impression is that more and more students feel that they should skip such talks because:

  • The talk is in an area that they are not familiar with. (“This talk will be way over my head.”)
  • They have more important things to do. (“My adviser will not go to such talks either.”)
  • Many talks are usually difficult to follow. (“It’s easier to directly read the paper.”)

As some of you may know, recently Avi Wigderson gave a talk in STOC 2004 about why we should listen to talks in other areas. He really seems to have some convincing arguments about why knowing other areas can help your own research. I won’t repeat them here.

And even though the opinion of a small potato like me doesn’t carry any weight, let me add to his list from a less utilitarian perspective (I do not claim Avi’s talk was utilitarian but the motivation he gave in his talk was certainly targeted to convince you of the benefits):

  • Manuel Blum once told me that “a PhD should be someone who knows everything about something and something about everything” and I believe him.
  • I feel that even very productive graduate students should have more time than their advisers.
  • As a community (if it ever existed), we should show up to community events, even just to show our support and appreciation to the speaker and the community itself. (I know this is mostly a culture thing. I am a Chinese and we treasure fellowship.)

What do you think?

P.S. I am spending the last 25 minutes to write this post because today one of our weekly “community event” scheduled at this time has been canceled due to various reasons. I don’t blame anyone for this. We all have our priorities and I respect that. (I lament only solely because there is a lack of free food. You believe me, right? :P )


If you have any suggestions on how this site can improve, please leave a comment here.

In particular, feel free to comment on things like:

  • How can we use this blog to help build our commuity? (For example, are there topics that you think we should discuss more?)
  • Related to the above, are there categories that you think is interesting but I missed? (Currently, if your account can publish entries, then you can manage categories. But let’s first discuss about it before making the change since it can affect others.)
  • What services do you you want, now that we have our own server? (For example, maybe you believe we should setup a wiki for some purpose that you see fit?)
  • Right now, whenever a comment is posted, the original author will be notified by email. Do you think we should turn this feature off?
  • Does this blog look good? (You can suggest other themes from here. Sometime over the summer I will see what I can do about it.)