Friday, October 16, 2015

Yes, We Have Postdocs This Year

The Harvard Theory of Computation group has postdocs.  This year, besides our usual general call for postdocs, we are also inaugurating the Michael O. Rabin Postdoctoral Fellowship in Theoretical Computer ScienceThis new fellowship has its own independent funding, so that researchers can do whatever they want, working with whomever they want, once they get here. 

Oh, there's also our postdocs at Harvard's Center for Research on Computation and Society, and Harvard's Center of Mathematical Sciences and Applications also. 

Please apply!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Yes, We're Hiring This Year

Harvard's CS search ad is apparently up and out.  We're eagerly awaiting applications....

The Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
seeks applicants for a position at the tenure-track level in Computer
Science, with an expected start date of July 1, 2016.

This is a broad faculty search and we welcome applicants in all areas
of computer science, including applicants whose research and interests
connect to such areas as engineering, medicine, and the social
sciences. We are particularly interested in candidates working in the
broad areas of machine learning, human-computer interaction,
programming languages, and systems (including networking,
architecture, and databases).

The Computer Science program at Harvard University is experiencing a
period of strong growth and expansion following an extraordinary gift
in support of new faculty from alumnus and former Microsoft CEO Steve
Ballmer, ‘77, and the largest gift in the University’s history,
received from John A. Paulson, M.B.A. ’80, in support of SEAS.

Computer Science at Harvard benefits from outstanding undergraduate
and graduate students, world-leading faculty, an excellent location,
significant industrial collaboration, and substantial support from the
Harvard Paulson School. Information about Harvard’s current faculty,
research, and educational programs in computer science is available at The associated Institute
for Applied Computational Science (
fosters connections among computer science, applied math, data
science, and various domain sciences at Harvard through its graduate
programs and events.

Candidates are required to have a doctorate or terminal degree by the
expected start date. In addition, we seek candidates who have a strong
research record and a commitment to undergraduate teaching and
graduate training.

Required application documents include a cover letter, cv, a statement
of research interests, a teaching statement, and up to three
representative papers. Candidates are also required to submit the
names and contact information for at least three and up to five
references, and the application is complete only when three letters
have been submitted. We encourage candidates to apply by December 15,
2015, but will continue to review applications until the position is
filled. Applicants will apply on-line at

We are an equal opportunity employer and all qualified applicants will
receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color,
religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin,
disability status, protected veteran status, or any other
characteristic protected by law.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

This Year's Andreessen-Horowitz Meeting

Andreessen Horowitz had another Academic Roundtable, which I've written about in previous years (here, here). 

For me, the most exciting session was on Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR).  It made me sit up and take notice. 

Matthew Turk started with an introduction, likening augmented reality systems to giving people superpowers.  Then he discusses his Augmented Reality system for remote communication.  Imagine something wrong with your car;  you call up a repairperson with your phone.  Instead of just sending video, your phone also sends information building up a 3-D model of what's being viewed.  So the repairperson can manipulate that 3-D model, essentially poking around the car looking at things independently, and then sending you annotated information (like "flip this switch", and circling the switch in an image from the model).  It looked pretty useful.

Steven Seitz then talked about Google's Jump and Cardboard projects.  Jump is a relatively cheap circular camera system that lets you take 360 degree "surround-sound" type video.  Cardboard let's you take your phone, put it in an Viewmaster style cardboard box, and view these 360 degree videos.  I got to try it, and it's amazing;  you really feel like you're in the middle of a scene.  It's "immersive", which appears to the one of the buzzwords for VR/AR experiences.  A scene when you're in barn surrounded by horses in their stalls really had the feel of being in a barn surrounded by horses.  You have to be careful -- you tend to turn and walk a bit as you're in the scene, which can be a recipe for trouble (like walking into a pool with your cell phone).   I didn't realize how "soon" this type of VR experience will be mainstream.

Derek Belch of STRIVR talked about his company, which is bringing virtual reality systems to sports training.  So the quarterback can practice passing plays, getting the mental training without having to have a team physically out on the field.  Besides showing off their innovative system, he talked about building a company in this space. 

There were some other great talks -- several others, but to name just a couple, Michael Jordan of Berkeley talked about the theory of combining differential privacy with statistical inference, and Jason Mars of the University of Michigan talked about Sirius, their open-source intelligent personal assistant  

The meeting always makes the whole startup idea seem very exciting.  However, during Marc Andreessen's fireside chat session (no actual fire), they said the dominant failure case for failed startups coming out of universities is where a professor starts a company on an interim basis, and tries to hand it off to others.  There is no substitute for the "core team" being full time devoted to the startup.  (The "core team" doesn't have to include the professor, it could be students, of course.)   

The fireside chat also talked about CS education, and what it meant that CS was becoming mainstream.  How do we design a more open CS education, so people know enough to use and develop/create things on computers without being "computer scientists"?  How should we think of movements like the recent activity in New York, where Mayor de Blasio has said that all the city's public schools will be required to offer computer science to all of their students? 

Overall, again, I'm glad I had the chance to go.

[Note:  Andreessen-Horowitz doesn't pay me anything, or even suggest I blog about their meeting.  But they do pay for expenses for people they invite.]  

Thursday, September 03, 2015

One Lecture Down....

CS125, the "new", "honors-ish" Algorithms and Complexity course, got off to a good start today.  The room was full with not enough seats for people, the students asked good questions and responded well to questions asked, and we got through the amount of material I expected.  It's year 2 of the class, which is easier than year 1 in some ways (lots of material prepared), and possibly harder in others (some thinking about what needs to be tweaked or fixed from year 1).  We'll see how things shake out next week, but I'm expecting we'll be in the 30-40 student range, like last year.  I can never tell if I managed to scare students off or make them want to take it.  (The challenge is that I want to do both;  scare off people without sufficient background, but interest students who do but might not realize it and might not even be Computer Science majors.)  Pleasantly, I felt very excited during and after the lecture, and will try to hold on to that positive energy.  

In other, much much stranger news, Harvard's CS50 appears to have a "backlash" movement, as described in today's Crimson article.  Apparently, according to some, there's intense "social pressure" to take CS50, and students need to be told that it's OK not to take the class.  I find this quite odd and, from my vantage point, misguided.  (Of course, I'm not a college freshman.)  I can't recall any such organized movement against Economics 10 at Harvard, which has been for decades now the most popular class at Harvard, although even when I was a student there was something one could potentially call cult-like about it.  (Cult of Wall Street....)  But that didn't mean people complained;  if you didn't want to take the class, you didn't, not really a thing.  Sure, the CS department here has been actively trying to attract students for decades -- CS50 was a good-sized class even before David Malan took over -- and David has just been very successful at it, with a combination of organization, interesting material, vision, and, yes, good marketing.  Naturally, here in CS, we believe that in our idealized world nearly all undergraduates would have a CS course as part of their liberal arts education, and we provide several other entry courses besides CS50.  I was initially thinking the movement described in the article was just a joke, and maybe I'm being April Fooled, but I'm not sure where those responsible are coming from.

And speaking of bringing in students to CS, Ben Golub and Yaron Singer are doing a new Econ-CS class at Harvard (counts for either;  also good for Applied Math majors) simply entitled Networks.  I'm a bit jealous -- this is a class I've thought about teaching also, but was busy and happy teaching algorithms -- but hopefully now that they've started it up it means I'll get a chance to teach it some year(s) down the line.

More insight into whether our enrollment numbers are still rising (is that still possible?) next week...


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

CACM Viewpoints on Theory and Experiments

There's a fun pair of viewpoints in the September CACM by Jeffrey Ullman and myself on experiments in computer science research, with him addressing systems conferences(/people) being far too focused on experiments as the research validation methodology, and me addressing theory conferences(/people) being almost strangely averse to experimental results.  (This link may bring you a digital version of his viewpoint, and this link to mine.)  I hope they might be interesting reading or food for thought.  As someone who works in both camps, I find this separation -- which we both seem to think is growing -- worrisome for the future of the CS research community.   

We actually wrote these up about a year ago (or maybe longer).  Jeff wrote something on the topic on Google+, and I responded.  I think he got drafted into writing something for CACM, and then I got drafted in later.  There was a pretty thorough reviewing process, with a couple of back and forth rounds;  then there was a non-trivial wait for publication.  This seems OK to me -- I'm glad CACM has a non-trivial queue of items for publication.  Overall it was a thorough and reasonably pleasant publication experience, and it's appealing that CACM offers a platform for these types of editorial comments.

Friday, August 21, 2015

SIGACT Meeting, Some Stuff

As some of you know, I was recently elected to the position of SIGACT (ACM Special Interest Group on Algorithms and Computation Theory) Chair.  So some part of this blog will be devoted to issues related to SIGACT for the next few years.  Comments and opinions are, naturally, extremely welcome.  

I'm on the train back from an orientation meeting for new chairs, and the SIG Board meeting.  Here are some things mostly from the orientation meeting, in a semi-random order.

1)  For people who have issues with ACM publication practices, some news.  First, they've moved to a model where conferences can maintain links to papers so that they are freely accessible.  STOC is/will be doing this, for example, so there will be a "permanent" STOC conference page each year with links to the STOC papers.  Similarly, authors can generate an "Author-izer" link for their web page giving people access to each of their ACM papers.  (I think there is a limit there of one such link per author.)  In any case, making publications more freely accessible is an issue ACM is dealing with, and the direction appears quite positive.

2)  There's other publication issues being considered, including whether/how conference papers can be published as journal articles in computer science (what should be the conference-journal relationship?), and some other forward thinking about publication models.  [There will be editorial and some viewpoints in the September CACM issue.]

3)  On the more mundane side, ACM is re-doing its website.  There is a preview at , and they are desirous of feedback.  (On most browsers, there should be a feedback link over on the right hand side of the page.)

4)  The ACM is starting to do book series.  You can get more information at , and they are looking for authors.

5)  The ACM has a student research competition (beyond the CRA stuff) -- information at .  We may look to see if we can incorporate this into STOC (or another theory conference).

6)  For those interested in logic and computation, or formal methods in computer science (broadly defined), you may be interested in (and not yet have heard about) SIGLOG (The ACM Special Interest Group on Logic and Computation), which formally came into being about a year ago.  Please consider joining.  

There was plenty of other stuff, but it was primarily administrative information that would bore you.

Friday, July 03, 2015

The High Cost of Conferences

At some point, I'm convinced the "conference structure" is going to fall apart.

Case in point -- I haven't bought my tickets yet for SIGCOMM because, unless I'm missing something, a schedule isn't up yet, and unfortunately, because ACM has scheduled a SIG chair meeting overlapping with SIGCOMM (which I don't understand also, but perhaps beside the point), I want to see what's going on when at the conference to plan my timing.   

6+ weeks out, round trip tickets from Boston to London are over $2500 on nonstop economy flights.  And those don't seem to be on US carriers;  since I have to stop back through New York for this other meeting, and I need to find a US carrier (or figure out if this is a case where it's an exception to what is the currently believed NSF policy), tickets look to be well over $3000.  Then there's registration, hotel, etc. 

At some point, this becomes unsustainable, I think.

Monday, June 15, 2015

SoCG Proceedings

The 31st International Symposium on Computational Geometry has its proceedings available online here.

I point this out because the SoCG proceedings were managed by LIPIcs, the Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics.  I've been on the editorial board for LIPIcs for several years.  The goal was to establish an open but professional publication mechanism that would be affordable in comparison to what was being offered by standard publishing programs.  From the announcement in 2009:

Schloss Dagstuhl Leibniz Center for Informatics (LCI) establishes a new series of conference proceedings called Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs). The objective of this series is to publish the proceedings of high-quality conferences in all fields of computer science, and LCI institutes an Editorial Board to oversee the selection of the conferences to be included in this series.

The proceedings in the LIPIcs series will be published electronically and will be accessible freely and universally on the internet, keeping the copyrights of the authors, and under an open access license guaranteeing free dissemination. To face the cost of electronic publication, a one-time fee will be required from the conference organizers. This fee will be kept to a minimum, thought to cover the costs of LCI, thanks in particular to a sharing of the workload between LCI and the conference organizers. 

LIPIcs has been, I think, growing in visibility and success, in terms of attracting more conferences.  If you're looking for a different approach to publishing proceedings for your conference that seems more in line with what many I've heard want from their conference proceedings, I encourage you to take a look.  It may not be for everyone, but we expect it may be useful for more conferences than are currently using it.  

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

More Good News for SEAS

About six months ago, I was able to point to a nice gift from Steve Ballmer for Computer Science at Harvard.  Today, more good news, this time for all of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences:  a $400 million gift from John Paulson, which (at least for now) is the largest donation to Harvard in its history. 

Not surprisingly, there's extensive new coverage, starting with the Harvard Gazette, the Harvard Crimson, and the New York Times.

While I'm not aware of the details of the effects on our budget, it's clearly great for us long-term, and will help us continue to innovate and grow.   

Also, for those interested, a recent Q&A with Harry Lewis from the Crimson, who's been acting as Interim Dean for SEAS.