Graduation from the Other Side
25 May 2017 | 12:35 pm


I've attended many graduations in my time, mostly as faculty, a couple of times as a student or a brother. This last weekend I attended my first university graduation as a parent as my daughter Annie graduated from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Brandeis has a big graduation ceremony with lots of speeches and then different departments or groups of departments have their own diploma ceremonies with their own speakers and where they give out the actual diplomas.

Brandeis gives out a number of honorary doctorates each year and for the first time gave one to a computer scientist, Turing Award Winner Leslie Lamport. Lamport received his PhD at Brandeis in math in 1972 before they had a CS deparment but now he has an (honorary) PhD in Computer Science. Lamport gave an eight-minute talk in the School of Science ceremony. But when you are a parent the weekend is about your child and my daughter didn't graduate from the school of science so I didn't see the Lamport talk.

In the main ceremony, Brandeis has not only an undergrad give a speech but also a grad student. Sounds like a crazy idea, but Vivekanand Vimal, Neuroscience PhD, gave what could be best described as a performance art. Since I can't find the video of Lamport and you probably don't want to see my videos of Annie, enjoy the new Dr. Vimal's ode to the craziness of the PhD and saving society.


The Optimizers
18 May 2017 | 12:42 pm

Last week the Georgia Tech School of Industrial and Systems Engineering honored the 80th birthday of George Nemhauser and the 70th of Arkadi Nemirovski at an event naturally called NemFest. The Nems are powerhouses in the optimization community and this event drew many of the greats of the field.

In theoretical CS we often take NP-complete as a sign to stop searching for an efficient algorithm. Optimization people take NP-complete as a starting point, using powerful algorithmic ideas, clever heuristics and sheer computing power to solve or nearly optimize in many real-world cases.

Bill Cook talked about his adventures with the traveling salesman problem. Check out his British pub crawl and his tour through the nearly 50,000 US historic sites.

Michael Trick talked about his side job, schedule MLB baseball games, a surprisingly challenging problem. Like TSP, you want to minimize total travel distance but under a wide variety of constraints. "There's something satisfying about being at a bar, seeing a game on the TV and knowing those two teams are playing because you scheduled them." Can't say I've had that kind of satisfaction in my computational complexity research.

If an ugrad asks `is field X worth studying' the answer is almost always yes
17 May 2017 | 1:27 pm

An undergraduate Freshman recently emailed me that he was very interested in Quantum Computing and wanted to know

1) Who on the fCS aculty works in QC (Answer: Andrew Childs though you should ask him about postdocs, grad students, and Physics faulty in the area.)

2) What are good books on QC for a bright ugrad. I said the following:

QC since Democritus by Aaronson
QC-A gentle introduction by Rieffel and Polak
QC for CS by Yanofsy and Mannucci
QC and QI by Nielsen and Chuang
Some of Scott's blog posts.
Ask Andrew Childs for more.

my webpage of book reviews for SIGACT NEWS here and search for Quantum to get some other books- read the reviews and pick one.

on Amazon type in quantum computing and see what reviews say- though they might not be reliable.

There are likely other good books but I do not know of them. (You can leave comments.)

3) Is QC a good topic to get into? I said YES of course. My reasoning is that they would of course LEARN something by studying it.

 But this raises the question: When would I say `that field is not worth studying' ?

1) If they really want to do RESEARCH and the topic is either too dead or too hard and they want to actually do research (as opposed to learning the topic without wanting to to research).

2) If there was nobody around to help them in that topic. Might still be okay if they are both highly motivated and very smart.

3) If the topic was bogus AND they would learn NOTHING from studying it. Are there topics that are bogus but you still learn from studying them? Does studying astrology seriously teach you some astronomy? Some history? How about Alchemy and Chemistry? Fine if the students KNOWS that Astrology is bogus and Alchemy is not correct.

The points is that I really do not want to dampen someone's enthusiasm for a topic.

SO- aside from the reasons above, can you think of any other reason to discourage a student from a topic they are interested in? I ask, as always, non-rhetorically.





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