ISIT 2007 : general impressions

I had meant to start blogging ISIT as it was going on, but that turned out to be infeasible due to a number of factors. The most relevant was that I spent the first 3 days of this year’s conference battling a fever, so by the time I got back to the hotel I was in no mood to type up any of the notes I had taken from the talks, and I also had to leave early the first two days so that I could lie down. Another downside was that my attention was not as sharp as it should have been, so I apologize in advance for the facile nature of my observations.

In general, the program this year felt way more Shannon-theory heavy to me than last year’s. Perhaps that’s because I wasn’t hanging out with many coding theorists, so I didn’t hear about the talks, but I felt like the coding talks in which I was interested were few in number. Furthermore, I ended up missing the one or two that I really wanted to attend (such as the new Reed-Solomon list decoding algorithm).

My biggest gripe was the lack of water at the sessions — there were two snack breaks, between the two morning and two afternoon sessions. There was juice, water, coffee and caffeinated tea, and everything was cleared out immediately upon the resumption of the sessions. I understand taking away the coffee and juice, but there was no water to be had in the session rooms and none in the convention area unless you bought it at the overpriced bar. Perhaps that’s in the contract with the convention center, but it’s a lousy deal.

This year they were also quite zealous in checking that everyone had their conference badge to prove that they had registered. The stinginess with respect to the water complemented (in some sense) their concern that freeloaders not be allowed into the sessions. I left my badge at the hotel one day and was made to get a temporary one for that day.

The big news of course was that Bob Gray won the Shannon Award for next year, which made me happy. I heard some people say beforehand that he seemed like an outside shot since he’s not a pure information theorist per se, and that’s what the award is about. In some sense Sergio Verdú is an Information Theorist’s information theorist, and I think one would be hard-pressed to find a candidate like him. You wouldn’t say Kailath is a pure IT guy either, right?

All in all, I had a good time, and had a few interesting research discussions with different people. I find myself wanting to work on some new problems, which is good from the perspective of learning some new areas, but bad from the perspective of trying to wrap things up and write my thesis. I was asked by several people if I was graduating soon and what I was planning on doing next, which is always a terrifying question. Hopefully I’ll get some of that sorted out this summer…

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