Tuesday, April 18, 2017

STOC Theory Fest Announcements

There's a lot of new information up at the STOC web page http://acm-stoc.org/stoc2017/ about the amazing theory fest June 19-23 in Montreal.  In particular, most importantly --

Conference Registration is OPEN

- The STOC program is posted.     
- The schedule of invited paper talks is posted.
- There is a call for posters.

Astoundingly, even with this action-packed five-day program schedule, we've kept registration prices way low -- $380 US if you register early for ACM members.  (You can conveniently register in US or Canadian dollars.)

Take a look at the program at http://acm-stoc.org/stoc2017/stocprogram.html ;  you'll see that you really want to be there this summer.  Then go to http://acm-stoc.org/stoc2017/registration.html to register.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

SIGACT Distinguished Service Prize Call, 2017

Call for Nominations
2017 SIGACT Distinguished Service Prize

The Theory community benefits in many ways from the dedicated service, above and beyond the call of duty, of many of its members. Among other contributions, the field's members underpin the operation of conferences, journals, prizes, funding agencies, and other community activities, help ensure funding for the field, and promote the recognition of the field by external communities. The SIGACT Distinguished Service Prize is intended to recognize and promote their contributions, as well as to raise awareness of the need for and importance of such service, for the health of our community.

The prize is given annually to an individual who has made substantial service contributions to the Theoretical Computer Science community. (From 2002 to 2012, the award was given biennially.) It is presented at the ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing, and comes with a $1,000 prize, a travel grant of up to $700 to attend the conference, and complimentary conference registration.


The prize can be awarded to an individual for a single contribution or for a series of contributions over a career. All living individuals are eligible with the exception of previous awardees, the sitting SIGACT Chair, an individual who nominated a majority of the current selection committee members, or a member of the current selection committee.

Selection Committee

The winner is selected by a three-member committee. The SIGACT chair appoints the selection committee to serve staggered terms over three award cycles. The 2017 selection committee members are László Babai, Lance Fortnow (chair) and Avi Wigderson.


Nominations can be made by any member of the Theory of Computing community and should contain a statement of no more than 500 words explaining why the candidate deserves the award. The nomination can also include an additional separate listing of service activities, additional support letters, and other supplemental material such as a pointer to the candidate's CV. The nomination must include the name, affiliation and e-mail address of the nominator. Nominations are to be submitted electronically in PDF format by April 2, 2017, to the chair of the selection committee, Lance Fortnow, at fortnow@cc.gatech.edu. Please put "SIGACT Distinguished Service Award Nomination" in the subject line.

Past Winners

  • 2016: László Babai
  • 2015: Avi Wigderson
  • 2014: Lance Fortnow
  • 2013: Lane Hemaspaandra
  • 2012: Sampath Kannan
  • 2010: Hal Gabow
  • 2008: Richard Karp
  • 2006: Tom Leighton
  • 2004: Rockford J. Ross
  • 2002: Alan Selman
  • 2001: Michael Langston
  • 2000: S. Rao Kosaraju
  • 1999: Fred S. Roberts
  • 1998: Ian Parberry
  • 1997: David S. Johnson

Friday, December 23, 2016

Godel Prize 2017 Call

The call for nomination for the 2017 Godel Prize is up.  The call is available at http://madhu.seas.harvard.edu/Announce/Goedel2017CFN.html and will be up on the SIGACT web page shortly.  Here's much of it -- key date, February 15, 2017.

The Gödel Prize 2017 - Call for Nominations

Deadline: February 15, 2017
The Gödel Prize for outstanding papers in the area of theoretical computer science is sponsored jointly by the European Association for Theoretical Computer Science (EATCS) and the Association for Computing Machinery, Special Interest Group on Algorithms and Computation Theory (ACM SIGACT). The award is presented annually, with the presentation taking place alternately at the International Colloquium on Automata, Languages, and Programming (ICALP) and the ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing (STOC). The 25th Gödel Prize will be awarded at the 49th Annual ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing, to be held from 19-23 June, 2017 in Montreal, Canada.

The Prize is named in honor of Kurt Gödel in recognition of his major contributions to mathematical logic and of his interest, discovered in a letter he wrote to John von Neumann shortly before von Neumann's death, in what has become the famous "P versus NP" question. The Prize includes an award of USD 5,000.

Award Committee: The 2017 Award Committee consists of  Moses Charikar (Stanford University), Orna Kupferman (Hebrew University), Kurt Mehlhorn (Max Planck Institute), Giuseppe Persiano (Università di Salerno), Omer Reingold (Stanford University) and Madhu Sudan (Chair, Harvard University).

Eligibility: The 2017 Prize rules are given below and they supersede any different interpretation of the generic rule to be found on websites of both SIGACT and EATCS. Any research paper or series of papers by a single author or by a team of authors is deemed eligible if:

  • The main results were not published (in either preliminary or final form) in a journal or conference proceedings before January 1st, 2004.
  • The paper was published in a recognized refereed journal no later than December 31, 2016.
The research work nominated for the award should be in the area of theoretical computer science. Nominations are encouraged from the broadest spectrum of the theoretical computer science community so as to ensure that potential award winning papers are not overlooked. The Award Committee shall have the ultimate authority to decide whether a particular paper is eligible for the Prize.

Nominations: Nominations for the award should be submitted by email to the Award Committee Chair: madhu@cs.harvard.edu. Please make sure that the Subject line of all nominations and related messages begin with "Goedel Prize 2017." To be considered, nominations for the 2017 Prize must be received by February 15, 2017.

Any member of the scientific community can make nominations. The Award Committee may actively solicit nominations. A nomination should contain a brief summary of the technical content of the paper(s) and a brief explanation of its significance. A printable copy of the research paper or papers should accompany the nomination. The nomination must state the date and venue of the first conference or workshop publication, or state that no such publication has occurred. The work may be in any language. However, if it is not in English, a more extended summary written in English should be enclosed.

To be considered for the award, the paper or series of papers must be recommended by at least two individuals, either in the form of distinct nominations, or one nomination including recommendations from at least two different people.  Additional recommendations may also be enclosed and are generally useful. The Award Committee encourages recommendation and support letters to be mailed separately, without being necessarily shared with the nominator(s). The rest of the nomination package should be sent in a single email whenever possible. Those intending to submit a nomination should contact the Award Committee Chair by email well in advance. The Chair will answer questions about eligibility, encourage coordination among different nominators for the same paper(s), and also accept informal proposals of potential nominees or tentative offers to prepare formal nominations. The committee maintains a database of past nominations for eligible papers, but fresh nominations for the same papers (especially if they highlight new evidence of impact) are always welcome.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Knuth Prize 2017 Call

The call is going out for the 2017 Knuth Prize.  The call will be up on the SIGACT Web page shortly, but until it shows up there here's a pdf.   Key date:  deadline is February 15 for nominations.

Key info (but please read the actual call for full details):
The Donald E. Knuth Prize for outstanding contributions to the foundations of computer science is awarded for major research accomplishments and contributions to the foundations of computer science over an extended period of time.

Nomination Procedure: Anyone in the Theoretical Computer Science community may nominate a candidate. To do so, please send nominations to : knuth.prize.2017@gmail.com with a subject line of Knuth Prize nomination by February 15, 2017. The nomination should state the nominee’s name, summarize his or her contributions in one or two pages, provide a CV for the nominee or a pointer to the nominees webpage, and give telephone, postal, and email contact information for the nominator. Any supporting letters from other members of the community (up to a limit of 5) should be included in the package that the nominator sends to the Committee chair. Supporting letters should contain substantial information not in the nomination. Others may endorse the nomination simply by adding their names to the nomination letter. If you have nominated a candidate in past years, you can re-nominate the candidate by sending a message to that effect to the above address. (You may revise the nominating materials if you desire).

Friday, October 28, 2016

Postdocs (Rabin and other) for this year

The Theory Group at Harvard has put out its ad for postdocs again this year.  It will be our second year for the Rabin Postdoc in theoretical computer science. "Rabin Fellows will be provided with the opportunity to pursue their research agenda in an intellectually vibrant environment with ample mentorship. While interaction with Harvard faculty, students, and visitors is encouraged, Rabin Fellows are free to pursue their own interests."  We also have open postdoc calls for the theory group, for the Center for Research on Computation and Society, and for the Institute for Applied and Computational Science.  More information on all these postdoc opportunities can be found here.  Candidates are encouraged to apply by December 1, although that's not a hard deadline.  Generally, we ask people what postdocs they're interested in, so you should only have to send in your materials once even if you're interested in more than one of these opportunities.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

FOCS 16 Workshops/Tutorials Call for Proposals

I'm told that there's a call for proposals up for workshops/tutorials for FOCS 16.
Here's a link to the call for those who are interested....

Deadline is August 31, end of the month.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

STOC Theory Fest 2017 (Montreal June 19-23)

As SIGACT chair I announced at the STOC’16 business meeting that starting in 2017, STOC will turn into a 5-day event, a Theory Fest. This idea was discussed at some length in a special session at FOCS 2014 and the business meeting at STOC 2015. Now the event is being planned by a small group (Sanjeev Arora, SIGACT ex-chair Paul Beame, Avrim Blum, and Ryan Williams; who also get guidance from me and STOC’17 PC chair Valerie King). We’re  setting up committees to oversee various aspects of the event.

Below is a brief announcement from the organizing group about their plans! Please feel free to write your suggestions here, though the outline below has been arrived at after a fair bit of deliberation and consultation.

Update:   Here is the web page for STOC 2017:  (http://acm-stoc.org/stoc2017/)


We’re excited to bring you the Theory Fest in Montreal, June 19-23 2017!

The following are the major features (caveat: subject to tweaking in coming years):

(i)  STOC talks go into 3 parallel sessions instead of two.  Slight increase in number of accepts to 100-110.
(ii)   STOC papers also required to be presented in evening poster sessions (beer/snacks served).
(iii) About 9 hours of plenary sessions, which will include: (a) Three keynote 50-minute talks (usually prominent researchers from theory and nearby fields) (b)  Plenary 20-minute talks selected from the STOC program by the STOC PC ---best papers, and a few others. (c) Plenary 20-minute talks on notable papers from the broader theory world in the past year (including but not limited to FOCS, ICALP, SODA, CRYPTO, QIP, COMPLEXITY, SoCG, COLT, PODC, SPAA, KDD, SIGMOD/PODS, SIGMETRICS, WWW, ICML/NIPS), selected by a committee from a pool of nominations. (Many nominees may be invited instead to the poster session.)
(iv) 2-hour tutorials (three in parallel).
(v)    Some community-building activities, including grad student activities, networking, career advice, funding, recruiting, etc.
(vi)   A day of workshops; 3 running in parallel. (Total of 18 workshop-hours.)

Our hope is that workshop day(s) will over time develop into a separate eco-system of regular meetings and co-located conferences (short or long). In many other CS fields the workshop days generate as much energy as the main conference, and showcase innovative, edgy work.

Poster sessions have been largely missing at STOC, but they have advantages: (a) Attendees can quickly get a good idea of all the work presented at the conference (b) Grads and young researchers get more opportunities to present their work and to interact/network, fueled by beer and snacks. (c)Attendees get an easy way to make up for having missed a talk during the day, or to ask followup questions. (d) Posters on work from other theory conferences broadens the intellectual scope of STOC,

We invite other theory conferences to consider co-locating with the Theory Fest. To allow such coordination, in future the location/dates for the Theory Fest will be announced at least 18 months in advance, preferably 2 years. Even for 2017 it is not too late yet.  

Finally, we see the Theory Fest as a work in progress. Feedback from attendees will be actively sought and used to refashion the event.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

STOC 2017 (and STOC 2016)

I'm starting to get asked about STOC 2017 dates -- we recently executed the hotel contract, and STOC will be June 18-23 in Montreal.  (It will really "start" the morning of the 19th, but we expect people will be getting to the hotel the 18th.)  Yes, that 5 days of STOC -- expect more announcements about how we'll be filling up those 5 days coming up.

And just a reminder -- STOC 2016 is around the corner, June 19-21, with a joint STOC/SoCG workshop and tutorial day on June 18.  The STOC 2016 page has more info, and even if you haven't signed up, you can still register as a walk-in on-site. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Class Evaluations, Again

I've not been blogging much, but I have an excuse now that class evaluations have arrived.
By posting about the evaluations, the students know I read them.  And perhaps if any future students see this it will inspire them to try to make helpful comments, or at least fill out the evaluation.  This semester I taught the undergraduate Algorithms and Data Structures course, which at a bit over 170 students is the largest class I've taught at Harvard (and the largest the class has been since I've been here).  Let's see how I did on a class this big.

But before beginning, a word from our administration: 
Again this semester, some students may have accessed their course grades before completing their course evaluations. When this has happened in the past, we determined that the effect on evaluations was statistically undetectable, if any. Nonetheless, we wish to assure you that we understand that this semester's Q evaluations will not be 100% comparable to past terms and that the administration will take that fact into consideration when viewing the data.
If anyone can decipher that bit of bureaucratese for me,  please do.  (I admit, I found it amusing.)

Now, my favorite comment of the year:
Mitzenmacher can be a bit intimidating at times (I'm pretty sure he's the only professor under 40 years old whose class I've taken that I'm not on a first-name basis with)...
Whoever you are, you anonymous student you, it's wonderful that somehow you think I'm still under 40.  That was, well, a while ago...   (Also, you can call me Michael.  Mitzenmacher is hard say, and spell.  Maybe calling me Michael will make me seem less intimidating.)

A close second:

Take this course if you want to be good at CS. I also got a girlfriend out of it, so if you're looking for love, this is definitely the class you should take. Chicks dig algorithms.
Yes, they do.  And congratulations.  But seriously, please don't call them "chicks".  Some women find the term offensive, and I would like women in the class to feel welcome and comfortable.  It also makes you seem like you're living in the wrong decade.      

Another good one.  

Definitely the legend his former students make him out to be.
Just to clear, I interpret that as at best a neutral statement, not necessarily a positive one.  (The rest of the evaluation, I think, backs my interpretation.)  On an obviously more negative note: 

He is sarcastic and unhelpful. He even goes out of his way to be snarky and rude to students...
I appreciate the concern, but don't worry, I'm not going out of my way at all... the sarcasm and snark really just come naturally!

And apparently, it's rubbing off.  

This course could be improved by having longer and more difficult problem sets. Having tougher exams would be better too.
Hey, I don't think you've heard.  I'm supposed to be the sarcastic and snarky one. (The student's whole evaluation was like this.  Very funny and original -- surprisingly, nobody's ever done that before, that I can remember.)  At least a partial explanation for the evaluation above, perhaps:  
Piazza was riddled with dumb anonymous question (e.g., "Should my program handle negative ints?" "No, as stated in the assignment."). I think it should be course policy to delete these questions rather than give terse answers; each one causes hundreds of people to receive email notifications and spend tens of seconds digesting the poster's helplessness. I estimate that each poster is choosing to waste about two hours of our collective time rather than reread the assignment or email a TF.
Thank you for this comment;  it's a rare comment that addresses a challenging issue.  I continue to be ambivalent about Piazza.  It's very useful for students to be able to ask questions and get reasonably timely responses.  On the other hand, the ease of being able to ask questions leads to the issue you raised, as well as other similar problems.  (Students don't see many private questions of the form, "Is this an OK answer to this question...")  I'm not sure deleting the question is the correct response;  I can only imagine the reaction.  Already, people find my terse answers to some questions off-putting, or even "sarcastic" and "snarky"....
Now for some other useful comments.   
better handwriting would be nice.
Not the first time I've heard that complaint, although surprisingly it was rarely mentioned this year;  I did try to be better at the board.  But it's good to be reminded, frequently.    

Maybe integrate into Canvas or disregard it completely, it was weird having some stuff in one place and other stuff on the other.
Thank you for the useful comment.  Canvas is the tool we are being pushed at Harvard to use for course management, and for a class of this size, I felt forced to use it;  having students e-mail in assignments just wasn't going to be functional.  But Canvas really, really sucks, and caused at least as many problems as it solved (probably more).  I'd have liked more comments about Canvas, or really some advice on whether it's worth using at all.  

An odd comment: 
really sucks not having a good textbook for those of us who learn better on our own than in lecture;
Comments like this always make me wonder.  I do not require a textbook, but recommend both CLRS and Kleinberg-Tardos if students want one;  both books line up reasonably well with probably 2/3 of the course.  Did this student buy one of those?  I don't know.  I also find most things I teach have pretty good articles available on Wikipedia.  Many students in their comments appreciated the lectures (and the lecture notes), but for those who don't, there are certainly other resources available.   
Now some good responses to the question:  What did you learn?  How did this course change you?
Algorithms are fun! I'm good at theory!
...I now view computer science as more than just coding. It is the art of problem-solving.

Some truth in advertising:
Very useful course for anyone who wants to learn how to solve problems in the most computationally efficient way possible. That said, this course is not for everyone. Some will find it difficult.
Some, indeed.  Perhaps I can find another student who can clarify the above description.... 
This class is insanely hard (like really, really, really hard); don't let anyone tell you otherwise. I spent maybe 40-50 hours per week on the psets, and the tests (the midterm and final) were brutal.
To be fair, I don't think most students are spending 40-50 hours per week on the problem sets, and the self-reported numbers suggest not also.  But point taken, the class is hard.  (Some will find it difficult.)   

As usual, the overall summary is that the reviews contain a mix of positive and negative.  Let's end with some more positive ones, so I can think positive thoughts about the fact I'll be teaching this very large class again next year: 
Really interesting course material presented clearly. There was a nice balance of breadth and depth, and I liked the focus on randomized algorithms and the last couple lectures on topics tying the course together. Such a good class - thank you!
 No, no -- thank you!
Mitzenmacher is very good at responding quickly on Piazza, and often his responses are quite funny.
Thank you!  Some people apparently don't seem to get our sense of humor.  Same thing happens at home with the wife and kids -- they don't think I'm funny either.  
Professor Mitzenmacher is a great lecturer and provides lots of insight into algorithms. Problem sets are very well written, and most if not all problems are very thought-stimulating and are an apt level of difficulty. I also enjoyed the programming assignments -- it was great to physically code things and get a hands-on approach to the algorithms we learned.

For programming assignments 2 and 3, I would have hoped that Professor Mitzenmacher grade them as well--the TFs seem to be following a rubric and it is difficult for them to reward other inisghts and rather take off many points for more minor issues.
Thank you for the nice comments!  I'm glad you were happy with my grading of the first programming assignment, but you really want me grading all of them???  (Hmmm... actually, maybe I'll think about grading PA3....)
Lastly, professor Mitzenmacher is incredibly nice and fun to talk to if you get the chance.
Thank you!  But please, don't let the secret out....

Let's end with this summary, answering what you would want to tell future students:  
You probably have to take this. Cheer up! First of all, it's not nearly as bad as everyone says...
Thank you, I think?***

(***This last backhanded compliment reminds me of a joke from when I was a kid, quoting from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F_Troop
Another running gag involves dialogue between Sergeant O'Rourke and Agarn. In many episodes O'Rourke says to Agarn, "I don't know why everyone says you're so dumb". After several lines of dialogue later, and occasionally after a commercial break, Agarn finally replies, "Who says I'm dumb?".