Wednesday, October 29, 2008

For SODA attendees

Howard Karloff asked me to post the following:

Outing To See "South Pacific" on Broadway During SODA'09

I have reserved, for SODA attendees and their friends / spouses / significant others, 50 tickets in the loge section at Lincoln Center for the 7:00 PM, Tuesday, Jan. 6 show of "South Pacific," so popular a show that already both Saturday Jan. 3 performances are sold out. If you want to buy one or two tickets, send mail to with "South Pacific" as the subject field, specifying the number of tickets you want in the body of the e-mail. Tickets will go to the first SODA attendees who pay by credit card via PayPal. I'll send instructions by e-mail. The tickets are $120 each--the face value is $115, and the extra $5 is to cover the PayPal fee--and are NONREFUNDABLE: once you pay, there will be no refunds. However, I imagine someone at SODA, some random theatre-goer, or an ebay user would be thrilled to take tickets to such a popular show off your hands.

So, please, start those e-mails coming. Should the demand far exceed 50 tickets, I may arrange a second outing, to a different play, either Saturday or Tuesday.

A few reminders: "South Pacific" starts at 7PM, not the typical 8PM start time, on the last day of SODA. The venue is Lincoln Center, not in the heart of Broadway. Once you pay, there's no backing out.

See you in New York in a couple months!

Howard Karloff

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Cheaper Arguments

A New York Times opinion piece spends two pages bashing classical economists for not understanding the computational aspects of economics and phase transitions. But who comes to the rescue? It is not theoretical computer scientists, with all our love of phase transitions and computational economics --- it is the damned PHYSICISTS!

Of course, 90% of this post is meant as a joke :). But I would like to point out that 10% is not.

We have witnessed a trend in TCS to focus on the philosophical implications of our work. But it should be obvious that those same philosophical implications can be obtained through cheaper arguments by other fields. When a new proposal to deregulate the Illinois energy market is made (to take the Times' example), who will be the first to point out a potential issue? The Physicists / whoever decides to run some simulations of the new market over the weekend? Or the TCS researchers, who have spent a month proving that a phase transition occurs, assuming that their precise model makes sense?

The point is that if you only want philosophical implications, a solid proof is not necessary ("Dear members of the Illinois Congress, I know you took the issues pointed out by our colleagues in the Physics Department very seriously, but you should realize they never had a complete proof before!"). Think about how hard it is to prove some things about random graphs or random SAT, even though they are obvious from experiments.

I would hate it if we became so engaged in the market for philosophical implications, that we would sacrifice our core TCS values to avoiding always coming in second place.