A personal post

Here’s an interview with me by math grad student Samuel Hansen, as part of a podcast he runs called Strongly Connected Components.  (Also check out the interviews with Steven Rudich, Steven Rudich a second time, Lance Fortnow, Doron Zeilberger, and your other favorite stars of the nerdosphere!)  In the interview, I talk about my passion for baseball stats, what you don’t know about llama-breeding, the use of color in Matisse’s later works … oh all right, it’s mostly about quantum computing and P vs. NP.

Here’s a story I told for an event called Story Collider, which was back-to-back with a superb production of Breaking the Code (Hugh Whitemore’s acclaimed play about the life of Alan Turing) in Cambridge’s Central Square Theater.  I was honored to serve as a “scientific consultant” to the Breaking the Code production, and to do audience Q&A before and after a couple performances.  In the Story Collider, I talk about the “Turing phase” I went through as a teenager and Alan T.’s impact on my life.

(Note: For the past couple years, I’ve avoided talking much about my personal life on this blog, since I pride myself on being someone who learns from experience and adjusts his behavior accordingly.  But two months ago, something truly happy occurred in my life, and if you listen to the end of the Story Collider, you’ll find out what it was…)

One last personal note: I’m at the Federated Computing Research Conference in San Jose all week.  If you read Shtetl-Optimized, are here at FCRC, see me, and wouldn’t do so otherwise, come and say hi!

38 Responses to “A personal post”

  1. Anthony Says:

    Well, I guess congratulations are in order !!

  2. Robin Says:

    Well… geez, that’s awesome!

  3. Scott Says:

    Thank you! :-)

  4. John Preskill Says:

    I’m not that interested in llama breeding, but I’m disappointed that you did not say more about baseball statistics…

  5. Vadim P. Says:


  6. Yatima Says:

    Well Scott, best wishes going forward :-)

    Ever read “Cryptonomicon” btw, being a Turing fan and all?

  7. Scott Says:

    Thanks, Yatima! I read Cryptonomicon up until a part where it talked about “factoring huge prime numbers” [sic]; after that I could no longer stay in the story. I also found Stephenson’s Alan Turing character barely-recognizable — as if Stephenson was trying to bend the historical person into his own personal ideal of a brash, badass, badmouthing genius. It had lots of fun bits though…

  8. Bram Cohen Says:

    I listened to the whole thing, not very carefully or anything, but somehow managed to miss whatever the personal thing is, even listening to the last few minutes over again.

  9. David Says:

    @Bram Listen to minute 9.

  10. Bram Cohen Says:

    @David Maybe I’m dense, but I still missed it.

  11. John Preskill Says:

    Maybe Bram is listening to the Hansen interview instead of the Turing story. Bram, try the Story Collider link. Made me cry.

  12. g Says:

    Bram, I wonder whether you’re listening to the wrong “whole thing”. At about 9:30, Scott mentions that he got married “about three weeks ago” (at the time of the event, presumably a month or so ago now).

  13. Michael Nielsen Says:

    That’s wonderful news, Scott. Congratulations!

  14. aravind Says:

    Nice feature, Scott, and your personal wonderful news was a great way to cap it. Hearty congrats and best wishes!

  15. Simple mind Says:


  16. Ben Toner Says:

    Congratulations, Scott!

  17. asdf Says:

    Congrats, Scott! Good thing the other commenters said what happened. After much effort I still haven’t figured out how to download the podcast (it seems to be possible for some but not all of the podcasts on that site).

  18. asdf Says:

    Clarification: the podcast I couldn’t download was the one on Story Collider. Also pardon the duplicate post.

  19. Micki St. James Says:

    I will be at FCRC but don’t know what you look like Scott so I may not be able to say hello, it’s hard enough to read nametags on people I know whose names elude my tongue, let alone to read them on strangers passing by.

    Actually my FCRC is off to a terrible start. I live in San Jose so no need to check into a hotel today. I was relying on a schedule printed from their website which is captioned “FCRC ’11 – Federated Computing Research Conference Plenary Speakers” and contains the list of speakers with Leslie G. Valiant at the top of the list, the lecture I most wanted to hear. The chart says “Plenary talks take place 11:30-12:30 Monday June 6 – Friday June 10 in the San Jose Convention Center”. So I was all ready to look closer at the schedule and make my hour-by-hour selections tomorrow at breakfast. I just looked at the paper tonight and it says, putting the lie to the column head, that Valiant’s lecture was June 5 Sunday at 6:00 PM. I missed it sitting right here saving hotel fees and I can’t even complain that I didn’t have the information (although I relied on a WRONG summary on the same page!).

    Umm, so how was the talk? Please tell me I haven’t missed yours yet!

  20. Princess Peach Says:

    Nooo! I can’t believe I lost!

  21. the Reader from Istanbul Says:

    Congratulations, Scott!

  22. Scott Says:

    Thanks so much, everyone!

    Micki St. James: Sorry you missed Valiant’s talk—I thought it was phenomenal! He talked about the need for a computational theory that would explain why evolution needed “merely” a few billion years and not more than that. There was very little dwelling on past successes (he discussed PAC-learning almost in passing, on the way to explaining his more recent notion of evolvability). I’m guessing video will be available.

    If you need to know what I look like, my home page has a glamor shot taken by my (now) wife, and my MIT CSAIL page has a more realistic nerd shot.

  23. Kid Icarus Says:

    Hey, Scott, you mention in the first interview that you got interested in programming due to your love of video games, in particular, nintendo. But did you mean the NES or the SNES? That is the ’8 bit’ or the ’16 bit’ system? Are you still a gamer and if so which systems do you own and which games and game types do you indulge in? Don’t say you don’t have time for such childish pursuits. Games are big business nowadays. And university professors have lots of free time, especially when school isn’t in session.

  24. Ross Snider Says:

    Beware that this came out in a way far creepier than I ever intended ;-):

    I know this may seem a bit early for you newly weds, and I am aware that you don’t know me but… can I be your first child’s Godfather?

    I demanded that MIT’s EECS add Dana to the list of possible advisors in their online application form this year (because her work is so cool, I wanted to work with her and she wasn’t listed!) and I’ve been following your prophetics for _years_.

    Please tell me that you and Dana worked together on a happy ending problem that drew you together and which will be published soon.

    Really I can not think of a better couple. Congradulations!

  25. Scott Says:

    Kid Icarus: I started out on NES, and still remember (like it was yesterday) my utter joy the day I got an SNES. (At that time, I think I thought “8 bit” vs. “16 bit” somehow referred to screen resolution.)

    To be honest, ever since getting into theoretical computer science as a teenager I haven’t really been a gamer—TCS is sort of the ultimate videogame! :-) Over the last year, though, I did get dangerously addicted to a multiplayer word game called LetterbloxShtetl-Optimized readers are welcome to play against me if they find me online! (My username is “aaronson”.)

    Dana (i.e., my wife) has also been trying to get me to play Wii Fit and EA Sports with her, and she may succeed.

  26. Ungrateful_person Says:

    Congratulations Scott!

  27. Douglas Knight Says:

    asdf: here is the story collider podcast. The relevant strategy for finding podcast downloads is to examine the rss feed.

  28. HDB Says:

    Mazel tov! Better than the royal wedding, except now we need some pictures with ridiculous hats.

  29. Raoul Ohio Says:


    I assume Scott is hoping for a change of direction (not involving D-Wave!) so he can stop getting congratulated, so here goes: Did anyone hear anything about the “Hailstone (or Collatz, or 3n+1) Conjecture” getting solved?

    Going home from the office last night, I stopped to catch a couple songs at an open stage and get a cold one, and a former student rushed up with news of a purported proof of the “Hailstone Problem”. Once I realized what he was talking about, I assessed “Hailstone” to be an excellent name for the procedure. That was the first time I had ever heard math/computer news “on the street”!

    Alas, a quick Google search turned up nothing about it today. A lot of us have thought at least a little about this problem. It should be interesting to know how it was attacked.

  30. Jr Says:

    Congratulations! To both you and your wife.

  31. Mike Says:

    Raoul Ohio,

    Collatz conjecture proved?
    Written by Mike James on Network Mirror
    Saturday, 04 June 2011 13:22

    “A proof has been proposed for the Collatz conjecture by a German mathematician [Gerhard Opfer] who is a former student of Collatz who originally came up with this addictive problem.”

    Here is a link to the article:


    Here is a link to Opfer’s preprint:


  32. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Thanks, Mike.

    The article does not appear to be there anymore.

    I skimmed the preprint, it does not look too hard: a clever construction in basic complex analysis; likely a good topic for a “problem presentation seminar”. Previous work evidently showed that the results on the kernel of the operators implies the Collatz conjecture, although that does not seem obvious.

  33. Anthony Says:

    Raoul Ohio,

    The “proof” is quicly discussed over at bit-player:

  34. asdf Says:

    Douglas Knight re #27, thanks.

  35. Shehab Says:

    Hey Scott,

    Are you going to be present there on 11th? I am planning to visit on that day.

    – A reader of your blog.

  36. Scott Says:

    Shehab: Sorry, Dana and I leave early tomorrow morning!

    All the other readers who’ve come up and said hi to me: thanks! :-)

  37. Shehab Says:

    No problem! Next time :)

  38. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    Scott – We got a Wii as a present a couple of years ago. In my opinion, there was one game CD that was a lot more fun, and a lot more exercise, than all of the others: Active Life, Outdoor Challenge. Just try it, you’ll see.

Leave a Reply