First Day of FOCS

FOCS 2010 is held at the Monte Carlo hotel in Las Vegas (yay randomized algorithms jokes!), which is next to the City Center, an unfortunately timed new development with a beautifully designed hotel, condos, and a shopping center with all the usual expensive firms (Hermes, Prada, LV, …) and some remarkable ones (Balenciaga!). The architecture is playful, modern and tasteful, the scale is rather grand, everything is very clean. I surprise myself thinking, this looks like Asia.

Talking about which, I finally found a place where coffee is more expensive than in Beijing: $3+ for an espresso at Starbucks.

Ketan Mulmuley did a great job with his tutorial. Even I, that knew nothing whatsoever about his program to proving circuit lower bounds via algebraic geometry and representation theory, got quite a bit out of it.

At night, I take a cab with another theoretician. “We are going to Double Down.” “You know” says the driver “you have to be careful around there.” “Careful? is it an unsafe area?” “No, no, it’s just that Double Down is the only bar in that area that…” The driver gives a good look at the two us in the rearview mirror and starts again: “… All the other bars in the area are for the ‘alternative lifestyle’…” He gives us another look. “Unless that’s what you are looking for… Which is cool… But then don’t go to Double Down, because it’s the only straight bar over there.” I want to explain to him that my friend is not gay, he is just Israeli, but we have arrived and we’ll have to have that conversation another time.

Collaborative Filtering and Partitioning

To decide the scheduling of the coming FOCS, and of any conference with parallel sessions, it would be great to have the following tool: a site where prospective participants can browse the list of accepted papers and their abstracts, decide which talks sound interesting, and select them in a checklist. After a while, based on the lists and some simple algorithm (probably, spectral techniques would work), a program automatically selects a schedule with few conflicts and with similar papers in the same session.

Optionally, after the schedule is finalized and the submission of lists is closed, the site could send a “you might also be interested in…” list to the registered users who sent in their lists, as a “reward.”

Does something like this exist? If not, would any reader(s) want to take it on as a volunteer project? It would have to be done within the next two weeks or so, but I believe that for someone who knows how to use the right tools it is a matter of a couple of days of coding. I can host the site at Stanford.