# CFP: 2015 Information Theory Workshop (ITW), Jeju Island

I am on the TPC for ITW 2015 in Jeju Island, South Korea.

The 2015 IEEE Information Theory Workshop will take place in Jeju Island, Korea, from October 11 to October 15, 2015. Jeju Island is the largest island in Korea and is located in the Pacific Ocean just off the south-western tip of the Korean peninsula. Jeju Island is a volcanic island with a mountainous terrain, a dramatic rugged coastline and spectacular watershed courses. The Island has a unique culture as well as natural beauty. It is a living folk village, with approximately 540,000 people. As a result of its isolated location and romantic tropical image, Jeju Island has become a favorite retreat with honeymooners and tourists. The tour programs of the conference will also provide participants with the opportunity to feel and enjoy some of the island’s fascinating attractions.

Special topics of emphasis include:

• Big data
• Coding theory
• Communication theory
• Computational biology
• Interactive communication
• Machine learning
• Network information theory
• Privacy and security
• Signal processing

# 2015 Bellairs Workshop on Large-Scale Inference and Optimization

A few weeks ago I got to go to Bellairs in Holetown, Barbados for a workshop organized by Mike Rabbat and Mark Coates of McGill University. It’s a small workshop, mostly for Mike and Mark’s students, and it’s a chance to interact closely and perhaps start some new research collaborations. Here’s a brief summary of the workshop as I remember it from my notes.

The Magician’s Land [Lev Grossman] : The finale of Grossman’s series. In a sense it had all the right pieces, but somehow it felt less specific and grounded to me, perhaps because the world was no longer “new” or because I felt like there was a need to “finish things up.” Of course, if you read the first two you have to read this one, so it’s not like I could not-recommend it. I was still quite enjoyable.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage [Haruki Murakami]: This also felt a bit slight with respect to other books of Murakami, but also “clean” in a way that I appreciated. I also now have to listen to more Liszt. Tsukuru Tazaki feels “colorless” and empty, shunned by his old childhood friends. He finally tries to seek out why, which turns out to be more surprising than he thought. As with much of Murakami’s work, the “mysteriousness” of women has this negative tint that makes me uncomfortable. This book, unlike 1Q84 or others, has very little magical realism going on, so it could be a good recommendation for someone who is less of a fan of that aspect of Murakami’s work.

Soy Sauce For Beginners [Kirstin Chen]: The story of Gretchen Lin, a 30-year old who has moved back to Singapore from SF to work at the family soy sauce factory after her marriage fell apart, this novel is part Gretchen’s painful journey towards self-discovery and resolution with her family, and partly an introduction to Singapore for the non-familiar reader. The latter part will appeal to some but at times I wanted less explanation and to be forced into trying to make sense of cultural elements myself. In this sense it’s a sort of novel of cultural translation. That being said, the best part of this book is how true and messy the story really felt. The family (and business) are dysfunctional, and Gretchen has a lot to come to terms with regarding herself, her marriage, and her relationship to this family.

The Name of The Wind / The Wise Man’s Fear [Patrick Rothfuss] : I should make myself promise to not read epic fantasy series that are not completed. Told in a kind of story-within-a-story, these books were a great way to unwind over the vacation. If you like those bards plus wizards coming of age stories, this one is for you. Also: plenty of unrequited love.

The Lowland [Jhumpa Lahiri] : I had read the opening of this book as a short story, but the novel is another beast entirely. Two brothers in Kolkata, one a Naxalite, the other looking to go to grad school in the US, and a torn apart and stitched together family in the US. While reading this I kept thinking of the movie Boyhood, which rather abruptly jumped years into the future to catch the family’s story at another time. This book does the same, but the shifts felt more jarring to me; I did not understand who there characters were quite as well. I think I had to suspend my disbelief a few times for some of the narrative choices. However, in retrospect it is because I think I didn’t quite get the characters, or I had misconceptions. Regardless, I think this is a story that helps complicate the story of middle-class Indian immigrant families, and is worth giving a read.

House of Suns [Alastair Reynolds] : Space opera, on a grand scale, but still grounded in our galaxy with humans, rather than the more distant and alien Culture novels of Banks. As Cosma would put it, mind candy, and a nice beach read.

# ISIT Deadline Extended to Monday

Apparently not everyone got this email, so here it is. I promise this blog will not become PSA-central.

Dear ISIT-2015-Submission Reviewers:

In an effort to ensure that each paper has an appropriate number of reviews, the deadline for the submission of all reviews has been extended to March 2nd. If you have not already done so, please submit your review by March 2nd as we are working to a very tight deadline.

(a) all submissions are eligible to be considered for presentation in a semi-plenary session — Please ensure that your review provides an answer to Question 11
(b) in the case of a submission that is eligible for the 2015 IEEE Jack Keil Wolf ISIT Student Paper Award, the evaluation form contains a box at the top containing the text:
Notice: This paper is to be considered for the 2015 IEEE Jack Keil Wolf ISIT Student Paper Award, even if the manuscript itself does not contain a statement to that effect.
– Please ensure that your review provides an answer to Question 12 if this is the case.

Thanks very much for helping out with the review process for ISIT, your inputs are of critical importance in ensuring that the high standards of an ISIT conference are maintained. We know that reviewing a paper takes much effort and we are grateful for all the time you have put in!

With regards,

Pierre, Suhas and Vijay
(TPC Co-Chairs, ISIT 2015)

# PSA on IEEEtran.cls

Apparently there’s a PSA out about using the latest version of IEEEtran.cls. Stefan Moser is a big proponent of IEEEeqnarray which he says is even better than my beloved align environment. He also hates on the shorthand  for resulting in “poorly readable” source code, but I guess I disagree on that point. He even says it’s better than multline! I guess I’ll have to revise my LaTeX practices… but only when I write IEEE papers.

# ITA 2015: quick takes

Better late than never, I suppose. A few weeks ago I escaped the cold of New Jersey to my old haunts of San Diego. Although La Jolla was always a bit fancy for my taste, it’s hard to beat a conference which boasts views like this:

A view from the sessions at ITA 2015

I’ll just recap a few of the talks that I remember from my notes — I didn’t really take notes during the plenaries so I don’t have much to say about them. Mostly this was due to laziness, but finding the time to blog has been challenging in this last year, so I think I have to pick my battles. Here’s a smattering consisting of

$\{ \mathrm{talks\ attended} \} \cap \{ \mathrm{talks\ with\ understandable\ notes} \}$

(Information theory)
Emina Soljanin talked about designing codes that are good for fast access to the data in distributed storage. Initial work focused on how to repair codes under disk failures. She looked at how easy it is to retrieve the information afterwords to guarantee some QoS for the storage system. Adam Kalai talked about designing compression schemes that work for an “audience” of decoders. The decoders have different priors on the set of elements/messages so the idea is to design an encoder that works for this ensemble of decoders. I kind of missed the first part of the talk so I wasn’t quite sure how this relates to classical work in mismatched decoding as done in the information theory world. Gireeja Ranade gave a great talk about defining notions of capacity/rate need to control a system which as multiplicative uncertainty. That is, $x[n+1] = x[n] + B[n] u[n]$ where $B[n]$ has the uncertainty. She gave a couple of different notions of capacity, relating to the ratio $| x[n]/x[0] |$ — either the expected value of the square or the log, appropriately normalized. She used a “deterministic model” to give an explanation of how control in this setting is kind of like controlling the number of significant bits in the state: uncertainty increases this and you need a certain “amount” of control to cancel that growth.

(Learning and statistics)
I learned about active regression approaches from Sivan Sabato that provably work better than passive learning. The idea there is do to use a partition of the X space and then do piecewise constant approximations to a weight function that they use in a rejection sampler. The rejection sampler (which I thought of as sort of doing importance sampling to make sure they cover the space) helps limit the number of labels requested by the algorithm. Somehow I had never met Raj Rao Nadakuditi until now, and I wish I had gotten a chance to talk to him further. He gave a nice talk on robust PCA, and in particular how outliers “break” regular PCA. He proposed a combination of shrinkage and truncation to help make PCA a bit more stable/robust. Laura Balzano talked about “estimating subspace projections from incomplete data.” She proposed an iterative algorithm for doing estimation on the Grassmann manifold that can do subspace tracking. Constantine Caramanis talked about a convex formulation for mixed regression that gives a guaranteed solution, along with minimax sample complexity bounds showing that it is basically optimal. Yingbin Liang talked about testing approaches for understanding if there is an “anomalous structure” in a sequence of data. Basically for a sequence $Y_1, Y_2, \ldots, Y_n$, the null hypothesis is that they are all i.i.d. $\sim p$ and the (composite) alternative is that there an interval of indices which are $\sim q$ instead. She proposed a RKHS-based discrepancy measure and a threshold test on this measure. Pradeep Ravikumar talked about a “simple” estimator that was a “fix” for ordinary least squares with some soft thresholding. He showed consistency for linear regression in several senses, competitive with LASSO in some settings. Pretty neat, all said, although he also claimed that least squares was “something you all know from high school” — I went to a pretty good high school, and I don’t think we did least squares! Sanmi Koyejo talked about a Bayesian devision theory approach to variable selection that involved minimizing some KL-divergence. Unfortunately, the resulting optimization ended up being NP-hard (for reasons I can’t remember) and so they use a greedy algorithm that seems to work pretty well.

(Privacy)
Cynthia Dwork gave a tutorial on differential privacy with an emphasis on the recent work involving false discovery rate. In addition to her plenary there were several talks on differential privacy and other privacy measures. Kunal Talwar talked about their improved analysis of the SuLQ method for differentially private PCA. Unfortunately there were two privacy sessions in parallel so I hopped over to see John Duchi talk about definitions of privacy and how definitions based on testing are equivalent to differential privacy. The testing framework makes it easier to prove minimax bounds, though, so it may be a more useful view at times. Nadia Fawaz talked about privacy for time-series data such as smart meter data. She defined different types of attacks in this setting and showed that they correspond to mutual information or directed mutual information, as well as empirical results on a real data set. Raef Bassily studied a estimation problem in the streaming setting where you want to get a histogram of the most frequent items in the stream. They reduce the problem to one of finding a “unique heavy hitter” and develop a protocol that looks sort of like a code for the MAC: they encode bits into a real vector, had noise, and then add those up over the reals. It’s accepted to STOC 2015 and he said the preprint will be up soon.

# Student Promotion: Signal Processing Society Provides Steep Price Slash

Or SPSPSPSPS, for short. I’ve been over-busy and lax on posting, but I’ll provide some recap of ITA soon, as well as some notes from the Bellairs workshop I just came back from. The winter is a bit jarring. To the point of the subject:

In case you hadn’t heard, the IEEE Signal Processing Society is currently running a campaign that allows IEEE Student and Graduate Student members to join the SPS for free for the 2015 membership year. The promotion is running now through 15 August 2015. Only IEEE Student and Graduate Students are eligible, as this offer does not apply to SPS Student or Graduate Student members renewing their membership for 2015.

This link directs to the IEEE website with both IEEE Student membership and the free SPS Student membership in the cart.

If a student is already an IEEE Student of Graduate Student member, he/she can use the code SP15STUAD at checkout to obtain his/her free membership.

If you have any questions regarding the SPS Free Student Membership campaign or other membership items, please don’t hesitate to contact Jessica Perry at jessica.perry@ieee.org.