February 2008


The NY Times has an article about compromising data on DRAMs via freezing them and reading the bits off. This would let someone read your encryption keys right off the chip.

It’s kind of funny — all of these crazy-complicated cryptographic schemes can be compromised by what amounts to breaking and entering. I’m sure someone will end up writing a paper entitled “Baby It’s Cold Outside : Zero-Knowledge Proofs With Freezing Verifiers.” Actually, that’s not a bad title…

The Cognitive Radio Blog.

Igor Carron’s Compressed Sensing blog.

Via Ilya Somin over at the Volokh Conspiracy, here is a link to a legal blog’s interview and discussion of some of the legal aspects of the show.

For the record, I was dubious at first, but Bobak’s evangelizing convinced me to start watching. BSG is one of those few shows that opens some good hard questions in a way that doesn’t grate horribly on my aesthetic nerves (c.f. Joss Whedon, for me). I don’t agree with the politics or aesthetics always, but there is good fodder for debate, to my mind.

I read a fascinating article [pdf] by Steve Batterson about Hubert Newton, the advisor of E. H. Moore, the so-called “father of American mathematics” who has a stunning 11938 academic descendants.

As is made clear in the article, the idea that Chasles was his academic advisor is questionable by the standards of today. Indeed, it was not until Newton started teaching at Yale that they even offered a PhD.

Interestingly, Google turned up Newton’s obituary from the NY Times.

The title says it all. I guess the cyclical nature of trade magazines doesn’t compare to the steady income they can derive from gouging academic libraries.

There’s an discussion going on over at Crooked Timber on how many papers one should agree to review. Most of the commenters are in the social sciences, but one pointed to an essay by William F. Perrin in a recent issue of Science that suggests the following formula:

R = \kappa \cdot S

where R is the number of reviews you should do, \kappa is the number of reviews required per paper, and S is the number of papers you have submitted. I’m guessing that means “papers on which you are the primary author,” but the formula seems reasonable. I wonder how the reviewing load for the Transactions on IT is actually distributed. Perhaps that might be a good survey for the IT Society, or maybe statistics can be gathered from the Pareja database.

Today’s PhD Comics strip reminds me of this classic Bloom County strip.

Alex and I were talking this week about what the syllabus for a course along the lines of Arora’s Theorist’s Toolkit or Kelner’s An Algorithmist’s Toolkit (HT to Lav for the link on my last post on this topic). I think developing a course along these lines with interchangeable 2-4 lecture “modules” would be a great thing in general. Modular design is appealing from an engineering perspective (although, as my advisor might say, separation of design is in general suboptimal). The question is, what would a good set of topics be? Here’s a partial set:

  • Advanced matrix tricks: matrix derivatives and other tools
  • Majorization and applications
  • Random graphs and random geometric graphs
  • Mixing times for Markov chains
  • Auctions and related allocation mechanisms
  • Random matrix theory : the basic results
  • Message passing algorithms
  • High-dimensional convex geometry
  • Concentration of measure phenomena
  • Alternating projection techniques

If any readers have ideas for additional topics, please leave a comment.

The point of such a course would be to give students some exposure to analysis and modeling techniques and more importantly a set of references so they could learn more if they need to. It’s like having a kind of cultural literacy to read systems EE papers. Of course, if you’re going to go and study LDPC codes, the brief introduction to message passing wouldn’t be enough, but if you want to understand the issues around BP decoding, the 3 lectures may be sufficient for you to follow what is going on. The list above has some items that are too narrow and some that are too broad. There are a lot of different tools out there, and some exposure to what they are used for would be useful, especially for graduate students at schools which don’t have an extremely diverse seminar series.

Berkeley started curbside collection of food scraps in the last few months, and it’s been a great boon to my somewhat forgetful lifestyle. Because my trash no longer smells and I only generate one bag of trash every other week, I only have to remember to wheel out the trash bin Wednesday night on alternate weeks. The compost bin provided by the city is not very good — it’s too big to clean out in the sink, stuff sticks to the sides, and it starts smelling after a week. I’ve repurposed a glass bowl that I keep next to the sink for food scraps, take it out every other day, and clean it before refilling. I vote two thumbs up on curbside composting.

Unfortunately, the amount of paper that I have to recycle from junk mail is ridiculous. I feel like the membership dues I have paid to the ACLU must have gone entirely towards defraying the costs of asking me for more money. It almost makes me want to end my membership, except I know they’ll keep harassing me for years to come, so the gesture would be wasted. There should be a national do-not-junk-mail list like there is for telemarketers.

I was listening to internet radio in the office this afternoon, and periodically would check the playlist if I heard something interesting — Palestrina’s Tu es Petrus was quite nice. But then they played some Lauridsen, who is identifiable within half a bar. I suppose it’s good to have your own compositional voice, but does it have to be such a repetitive one? I could have sworn I sang this one, but no, it’s a Agnus Dei. Oh well.

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