ITCS’2012 in Cambridge, MA

Since everything I write now seems to provide an occasion for bitter controversy, I’ll be curious to learn whose sensibilities I inadvertently offended by posting the following announcement for next year’s ITCS conference. -SA


Dear Theorists:

As you know the third Innovation in Theoretical Computer Science Conference will be held in Cambridge this January:  http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/newengland/events/itcs2012/.

REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN and THE PROGRAM IS ONLINE.

In addition to the program, there are going to be a few novelties that we would like to point out to you.

1. GRADUATING BITS

In one session of the conference, students graduating this academic year (as well as researchers completing their postdoc this academic year) will be given few minutes to present themselves and their work.

The presentations will be grouped by University, in alphabetic order.

We hope this will give all of us an opportunity to have a synopsis of the great work being done by the “graduating” members of our community.

In order to speak in this special session, please send an email at  silvio.itcs12@gmail.com by DECEMBER 15.

Registration fees will be waived for presenters at Graduating Bits 2012.

If you/your students are graduating this year, or you plan to hire this year, we are encourage to attend ITCS 2012!

2. COMMUNITY BUILDING

To strengthen our (legendary!) friendship and collaboration, we will treat you to a PLAY BACK show: an improvisational theater where OUR actors will bring to life YOUR stories.

3. CHAIR RANTS

In addition to the chair of each session introducing the speakers and coauthors of the session (who will then introduce themselves and their coauthors), our chairs will provide us with their insights on the papers in their sessions.

We look forward to seeing all of you in Cambridge very soon!

All the Best

Shafi Goldwasser, Silvio Micali, and Yael Tauman Kalai

32 Responses to “ITCS’2012 in Cambridge, MA”

  1. rrtucci Says:

    Since you asked, I am offended by how often you use exclamation marks. Life is not fun!

  2. Sean Carroll Says:

    “Dear” is really quite infantilizing and unnecessarily condescending. Who are you to presume to speak to people that way?

    And “Theorists”? Are you intentionally trying to disparage the hard work of experimenters? Science is an empirical endeavor, as scientists used to appreciated before all this postmodern mushy nonsense took over.

    “As you know” is sneering and confrontational. Who are you to decide what I do and don’t know? Actually I didn’t know that. What a cheap attempt at one-upsmanship.

    I could go on.

  3. Vadim Says:

    And don’t get me started on having these hedonistic scientific conferences while people are starving. I’ve heard they light cigars with NSF grants at these things.

  4. Tom Says:

    Excuse me — Its not only our “bits” that are graduating. Students are people as well, even if we are often thought of as only useful for our bits.

  5. Scott Says:

    Thanks, everyone! :-D Your mock-offense made my day, when I was seriously thinking about shuttering this blog. My favorite part was Sean’s indignant litany of “Who are you to…” questions, when all I did was repost an announcement by someone else after barely even having read it. (And I can already foresee: “What kind of blogger posts an announcement without even reading it?!”)

  6. Jiav Says:

    It’s about time! Who do you think you are to hide this information so long?

  7. vassman Says:

    Oh, you poor victim! Everything you write raises controversies left and right. People should have a heart and understand that you only wish for the best, particularly by advertising the daily breakthroughs in TCS.

  8. Scott Says:

    “vassman”: See, your comment is actually a perfect example of what I’m talking about. You write, dripping with sarcasm, about advertising breakthroughs in TCS as if that were self-evidently a controversial if not downright nefarious activity. And while the evil of highlighting great work in my field does indeed seem self-evident to hordes of disgruntled anonymous trolls who for some strange reason continue reading this blog, I confess to not being in on the joke.

  9. Vadim Says:

    Scott, on a serious note, I hope you don’t decide to shut down the blog because of a few curmudgeons trolling the internet looking for things to act outraged about (though I couldn’t blame you if you did, of course).

    This blog is one of a kind, as is your ability to explain difficult concepts clearly. For me personally, this blog led to my own little computer science renaissance and I believe reading it (and wanting to be able to understand more of what was being discussed) was one of the biggest factors in my decision to go back to school.

    I’m sure you make a great enough impact on your *actual* students’ lives that you shouldn’t feel obligated to keep writing for the sake of people you’ve never met, especially when you have to take abuse for doing it, but if making a difference is your goal as an academician, and if making a difference is at least slightly defined as “making someone learn about a topic they love”, then this blog goes towards accomplishing that more than you probably realize. Hoping for many, many more years of Shtetl-Optimized!

  10. MK Says:

    On places like Reddit, they have a rather nasty term “attention whore”. While is it rather offensive and I don’t encourage using it, prepending every other blog post with exaggerated accounts of how your writing leads to bile and controversy comes dangerously close. Obviously you enjoy being in the center of attention and controversy, you wouldn’t be posting about bin Laden or making $200.000 bets otherwise. Just don’t whine about it – at least a couple of bloggers get under heavier flak than you and never complain.

    In short, stick to what you do best, i.e. writing cool stuff about complexity theory and related areas. (yeah, and even by writing this comment, I’m providing fuel for this attention-seeking attitude – it’s unbeatable ;))

  11. Scott Says:

    MK: Sure, I enjoy attention-whoring as much as the next person (or maybe even slightly more), but no, I genuinely didn’t expect the flamewar that erupted over yesterday’s post (did you see it?), which that sentence was a direct reference to. If posting a short announcement about a long-awaited lowering of the matrix-multiplication exponent counts as “attention-whoring,” what on earth doesn’t?

  12. anon Says:

    Unlike others who are making fun of the criticisms, I have a few real ones. Threatening to stop blogging each time people complain about something you write looks childish. No one is saying your blog is not useful or you should not blog, I haven’t seen any such comments. Many of criticisms are not picking on you but are by people who want you and the field to be even better. No one is disputing your research, your intelligence, or your contributions to the field (technical and otherwise like popularization). I like your work and your fun personality, but sometimes your behaviors are really annoying, you should be a better role model for students. You should understand that you are not a junior person anymore and the expectations from seniors are higher. Let me give an example. I don’t think you are an expert on matrix multiplication algorithms, you have not worked on this problem to best of my knowledge. Also you don’t seem to have a clear understanding of what was the main contribution in the recent results (other than the statement of the theorem), what is promising in them, and what are their limitation. A senior person should be more careful about evaluating such a result from an area outside his expertise and in claiming that it is a break-through. Even more so when there is the possibility of conflict of interests (because of friendships).

  13. Scott Says:

    anon #12: Thanks for explaining; I’ll take your criticisms under advisement and try to improve. FWIW, though:

    1. MIT still considers me a “junior” person: I don’t have tenure, and I still get to attend all the junior faculty dinners.

    2. Saying I “threaten” to stop blogging seems extremely unfair to me. Sure, I’m genuinely considering whether to stop. But if I do, it won’t be because I’m scared: rather, it’ll be because I have much less time and because blogging has become a lot less fun lately. And yes, the “less fun” part is directly related to the fact that, justly or not, so many commenters now react to everything I say as if I were a “senior person”—as if what I wrote were appearing in some official statement of the National Academy of Sciences, rather than on a personal blog entitled “Shtetl-Optimized.”

    3. I plead guilty to not being an expert on fast matrix multiplication. However, I respectfully submit that a great thing about TCS is that there are certain problems for which you don’t need to be an expert to understand when a breakthrough has been achieved: general familiarity with the field suffices. So for example, if someone finds a faster PTAS for the Smoothly-Triangulated Semi-Fractional Bin-Packing Problem in Pseudometric Spaces, you might tell me: “sure, you might never have heard of the problem before, but get a load of the amazing new techniques!” By contrast, if someone finds (say) a proof of NEXP⊄TC0, a fully-polynomial linear-programming algorithm, or a lowering of ω, then while it’s obviously of great importance to understand the techniques (something that can rarely happen in blog-time), there’s also no possible set of techniques they could have used that would make the result, assuming it’s correct, anything other than a breakthrough.

  14. Boaz Barak Says:

    Dear anonymous,

    I think Scott’s blog is a real asset to our community, and while I didn’t go over the comments he’s mentioning, I can definitely sympathize with him if what he gets in return is snark and unfair criticisms from anonymous commenters.

    Scott has every right on his own blog to tell the world about a result he’s excited about. When Scott says that a certain result is a breakthrough it means that Scott thinks it’s a breakthrough – nothing more and nothing less. You, and every other reader, are entitled to your own opinion of the paper or of Scott’s qualifications to evaluate it.

    Generally, I’d much rather have people err on the side of being too excited about progress in theoretical computer science than the other way around. I also think that you don’t necessarily need to be a matrix multiplication expert to have an opinion on this paper (although you do need to be willing to at least go over a 71 page manuscript, which rules me out for the near future…)

    Scott, I hope you do keep on blogging. However, I definitely won’t blame you if you choose to require commenters in the future to use their real names (which, while not ideal in blogs discussing revolutions in repressive countries, might not be a bad policy for TCS blogs).

  15. Zoltan Says:

    Blogs are an important and relatively novel form of communication and discourse, and they will only grow in the future. Their real value (at least from my perspective) is that they provide an “access shortcut” to many of the novel discoveries that are technically too detailed to follow through in a reasonable time, and of course raise awareness to things that I might otherwise miss. Sometimes, they may self-organize to prove or disprove a claim, which is definitely a novel approach to problem solving. From this point of view I feel that blogs like Scott’s, Dick’s and Lance’s, etc. are actually doing a great service to not only their field, but also to “adjacent” fields (I am a physicist), and I am quite grateful for that. However, as follower of several blogs, I cannot help to observe that blogs have a “personality” or “character” to them which, of course, has to do with the human behind them. There is nothing wrong with that, I personally have learned to accept different personalities, it is what makes life interesting sometimes. Of course, as long as the blog keeps its original purpose to provide a discussion forum genuinely focused on the scientific question(s), it will keep me coming back. So I guess it is really up to Scott how he wants to run his blog, and so far I can only be thankful that he has been doing it at all, these things take time (away e.g., from his next paper).

  16. rrtucci Says:

    One blog is worth a thousand conferences. (Confusedcious)

  17. rrtucci Says:

    All these years I’ve been training you to ignore dumb comments, namely my own, and you still haven’t learned, grasshopper

  18. Dave Bacon Says:

    No, no, you’re all wrong. Scott should shut down his blog!

    Did you know that 1 percent of all TCS blogs generate 34.6 percent of all TCS controversy? Did you know that TCS controversy has grown 10x on this blog over the last decade, while other TCSs blogs have generated little or no controversy? Did you know that the top 1 percent of all TCS blogs are directly responsible for oil. And sad puppies. And sad puppies covered with oil?

    Scott is clearly taking more than his fair share of controversy (probably using derivatives of some sort…funny I always thought computer scientists didn’t like calculus.) It is time for him to shut down this blog, or at least for us to tax his blog by spreading his controversy far and wide across the blogosphere. Does Scott really expect his secretary to be less controversial than he is?

    Until the time in which every trollish comment on Scott’s blog is echoed immediately to comment threads far and wide….Until the time in which every sentence on Scott’s blog is 100 percent perfectly phrased and argued….Until that time I think we should OCCUPY STRATA CENTER!

  19. Micki St. James Says:

    Blogging makes you bigger. Someday there will be junior faculty dinners senior faculty dinners big faculty dinners and little faculty dinners. People you don’t know from half a world away will be your dinner guest at the big faculty dinner and you will be sitting across from someone and in front of someone and under someone and over someone and in phase with someone and out of phase with someone and 11 other directions besides. And this is what happens when you let yourself write comments at 1 AM when you should have gone to bed three hours ago.

    Scott, I love your blog. I love your opinions. I learn from you and your commenters. I participate in modern intellectual currents by having access of a sort never available when I was in school. I always wondered what you got out of it.

  20. anon Says:

    Dear Scott,

    I sincerely think that your blog is useful addition to the community. Definitely having fun is part of what makes you write this blog, and I enjoy reading it (that is why I don’t stop reading your posts!). I guess part of the problem is that I (and others) consider you more senior than you think you are (even though MIT officially considers you a junior).

    When I wrote that “you threaten to stop” I didn’t mean that you were not thinking about it. What I meant is that people will write criticisms, that should not be a reason for you to stop blogging. If some comment is nasty just ignore it or delete it. Obviously this is your blog and you are free to write whatever you like, but I think receiving criticism is healthy addition (as long as it is constructive and respectful, and not nasty).

    Dear Barak,

    I agree with your assessment of Scott’s blog. He is also free to announce whatever he thinks is exciting. But we are also free in criticizing what he writes, and of course that is just our opinion, nothing more. Scott has also criticized other people’s opinions and behaviors on several occasions. It is natural and normal. Taking into account Scott’s fun personality and this blog being one of the most read theory blogs I think the amount of criticisms that appears here is normal. At the same time the amount of thankful comments are also higher compared to other blogs.

    It is Scott’s decision to whether allow anonymous comments or not, but allowing anonymous comments means that people will be more honest in expressing their opinions. He can turn on the future for vetting anonymous comments If he doesn’t want to them to show up automatically in the comments as Dick and Ken do on their GLL blog.

  21. Aaron Sterling Says:

    Hi Scott,

    I only click through the Aggregator to your blog when you discuss breakthrough results (like your previous post). This one is an exception, because I find the growth of ITCS very interesting. Your post, coupled with Lipton/Regan’s, provided an important community service, in my eyes. The comment of Markus Blaser alone was worth the price of admission. I am grateful you put up your last post, for whatever that is worth to you.

    If you no longer find blogging rewarding, you should probably stop.

    Also, with respect, I would suggest that your perspective might be off. There have been situations you might be aware of where comments left by anonymous internet trolls *should* cause a researcher worry and consternation. If you compare such a situation to this, frankly, pffffff. Maybe stop feeding the trolls?

    My best wishes to you, and thank you for all of your excellent posts so far.

    Apologies for the off-topic comment.

  22. DMM Says:

    I noticed that this announcement is written in English, a subtle (but not unnoticed) slight on the Mayan community.

    I also noticed that you have put this blog on the Internet, which confirms the (well known) bias you have against hunter-gatherers. I’m also well aware of why you use the Internet, to access it one has to be familiar with these Turing Machines in which your field has a vested interest.

    I’m writing to the President of Earth as we speak.

    (Seriously: Great blog! I’ve learned loads from it. Don’t be put off by the eejits.

  23. L. Thayer Says:

    I do wonder what is in alphabetical order- the University, the presentation titles, or the presenters

  24. Jeff Says:

    Scott,

    This is one of the best blogs on the internet for TCS along with Dick and Ken’s. I have loved your poignant insights and your willingness to voice strong opinions on everything from D-Wave to the Vinay Deolalikar affair, along with the informative posts related to quantum computation. Not many leading researchers are as generous in this respect and I, for one, would be saddened if you stopped blogging.

    One alternative, although, I am not terribly fond of it, would be to disable the anonymous comments.

  25. Cindy Says:

    We should boycott conferences held in communist China. If ITCS is returning to China, then we should boycott it in the US, too. What do you think?

  26. kodlu Says:

    @Cindy: I think you’re deluded.

  27. Joe Fitzsimons Says:

    The CS theory blogosphere seems to have a serious issue with anonymous commenters, and anonymous ad hominem attacks in comment threads seem to be becoming the norm rather than the exception (not just here, but also on Lance and Bill’s blog, etc.). I have no idea what drives this, but it certainly makes me question whether anonymous comments are really worth the hassle. I strongly feel that in situations like this you shouldn’t say anything you are not willing to have your name attached to.

    Scott, with the decoherence of the original quantum pontiff, this blog is now the only one I check regularly. It is both entertaining and informative, and would be sorely missed should you choose to stop blogging. That said, I would absolutely understand if you chose to stop. No one should have to put up which such a constant and incessant stream of crap.

  28. Huck Bennett Says:

    Hi Scott,

    As with many important blogs, I think that there are ten appreciative SO readers for every anonymous troll. Of course, the latter take up most of the comments. I cast my vote strongly in the “please keep blogging” category.

  29. Luke G Says:

    Let me join in supporting Scott for all the efforts he’s gone through to provide the public with an entertaining, educational, and insightful blog.

    Scott, I’ve never found you controversial. You’re more lively than some others–and that’s one reason why people love this blog!–but you’re not controversial. The critical comments directed towards you on this blog are exasperating, even for me as a reader. Some of the hypersensitivity expressed boggles my mind. And some are just trolls (intentional or not), but seem to be taken seriously, even by you on occasion. IMHO, even apparently good-natured stuff like #12 is off-topic and dilutes the value of the blog to readers. (FWIW, I disagree with the commenter.)

    If I were running the blog, all these comments would be insta-delete. If someone has serious concerns, send a private email. It’s not like you should rely on blog commenters to correct any career limiting moves you might make, so why let the poo-pooers dominate the comment section?

    Anyway, please consider comment moderation, or even turning off comments, before turning off the blog. I would find it a real loss.

  30. anon Says:

    Scott,

    Apologies if I crossed the line of respectful commenting and expressing disagreement within acceptable norms. Like others I hope that you will continue to blog.

  31. Scott Says:

    Thanks so much, everyone!

  32. Nilima Says:

    Yup, please don’t stop blogging. If not to your field, you owe it to a pair of sleep-deprived mathematicians whose entertainment options are currently seriously constrained. Please. Don’t abandon us to a world of Diego the bloody, irritatingly perky, ‘animal-rescuer’.

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