Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hashing Summer School in Copenhagen

Of the many, many interesting things happening in Copenhagen this summer (SEA, SWAT, ICALP) we'd like to add one more:  a Hashing Summer School at the University of Copenhagen.  Here's the web site.  This was the brainchild of Mikkel Thorup, who knows a thing or two or three about hashing, and is co-organized by me and Rasmus Pagh.  We've got a great set of speakers, and we expect a mix of lectures, problem-solving exercises, a poster session, and other such fun and learning.  The registration deadline is May 15th;  check the web site for details.  If you're coming out to Copenhagen for other activities, or just want a good reason to visit the beautiful city, take a look.  I hope to see you there.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Leslie Lamport wins Turing Awards

In another sign that these Turing Award committees really know what they're doing, Leslie Lamport has won the Turing Award.  There's a very nice writeup including the history of his work up on an official Microsoft blog post.

While I know there are arguably many people deserving of a Turing Award, Leslie Lamport is an amazingly obvious and absolutely fantastic choice.  His body of work is truly inspiring, and as the above links show, his work has had a huge effect on us all.   

Monday, March 17, 2014

ICERM (Brown) Workshop on Stochastic Graph Models

I'll be commuting throughout the week to the ICERM Workshop on Stochastic Graph Models.  ICERM is the Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics, a new-ish place associated with and walking distance from Brown University, and Eli Upfal (among others) is making sure that it's closely connected with Brown Computer Science as well as other mathematical disciplines.  The building is very nice and new, with a great view of Providence.  It's also very close to the freeway.  (Driving to the ICERM building is not much more time than driving to MSR New England from my house, even though it's more than three times the miles...)

We've already had great talks today by several great people (Leslie Goldberg, Artur Czumaj, Susanne Albers, Flavio Chierichetti, and Gopal Pandurangan), and there's a fantastic schedule for the rest of the week.  If you're in the neighborhood you should come on by.  Leslie's talks on evolutionary dynamics on graphs and Flavio's on trace complexity of network reconstruction were both very close to long-time interests of mine, though it feels like it's been a while since I worked on such "pure" (and very pleasant) random process problems.  I can feel the talks drawing me in...

By the way, has anyone figured out the complexity of the 2048 game yet?  Assuming that the game uses some stochastic model at each step, I wonder what you can say about the probability of getting to 2048 under some model of play.  That's a stochastic model in need of analysis. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Those who Hire vs.

If you haven't yet, I encourage you to read the Inside Higher Ed article about a department that, when a candidate they had made an offer to attempted to negotiate the terms of that offer, then rescinded that offer.

Let me be clear up front:  I'm on the side that finds the department's behavior reprehensible and inexcusable.  (As is often the case, I should acknowledge that I have only the limited information available.)  I admit I view this in the larger picture of the current state of employer-employee relations, where I think the scale has tilted too far in favor of the employer side.  Others have noted that there seems to be a prevailing attitude that current employers, by and large, feel employees should be grateful that they're having the opportunity to work for them, regardless of conditions.  For a recent example article expressing this, you can read this New York Times article on "My Life as a Retail Worker".  While tech workers may think they're in a happy state where employers need them so much that they have to treat them well -- something that, generally speaking, clearly has some truth to it -- I worry on the tech side that has made people complacent.  The ongoing story about how Google and Apple (as well as other tech companies) had a secret agreement not to recruit each other's employees demonstrates that, even in tech, the utility of workers and their employers may not always naturally align.  

Was the candidate in question asking for too much?  I think the candidate was negotiating;  she makes clear that she was not expecting to get everything asked for, but wanted to see what was possible.  The department chair (or whoever was in charge) should have explained what was possible from their standpoint, and set a deadline for the candidate to decide.  To rescind the job offer smacks of discriminatory practices -- not (necessarily) discriminating against women (an issue that has been raised in this context, since maternity leave was part of the request) -- but discriminating against employees that might think to advocate for themselves.  Many employers seem to call employees that advocate for themselves "troublemakers";  is that how we're to interpret the mindset behind the decision here?  That's disturbing -- as a general trend in academic life and specifically with this university's behavior.  I'd like to think people who self-advocate are desirable for tenure-track positions, not the opposite.