I’m in the process of moving to New Jersey for my new gig at Rutgers. Before I start teaching I have to go help run the the Mystery Hunt, so I am a little frazzled and unable to write “real” blog posts. Maybe later. In the meantime, here are some links.

The folks at Puzzazz have put out a bevy of links for the 200th anniversary of the crossword puzzle.

The UK has issued a pardon to Alan Turing, for, you know, more or less killing him. It’s a pretty weasely piece of writing though.

An important essay on women’s work: “…women are not devalued in the job market because women’s work is seen to have little value. Women’s work is devalued in the job market because women are seen to have little value.”. (h/t AW)

Of late we seem to be learning quite a bit about early hominins and hominids (I had no idea that hominini was a thing, nor that chimps are in the panini tribe, nor that “tribe” is between subfamily and genus). For example,
they have sequenced some old bones in Spain. Extracting sequenceable mitochondrial DNA is pretty tough — I am sure there are some interesting statistical questions in terms of detection and contamination. We’ve also learned that some neanderthals were pretty inbred.

Kenji searches for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe.



My cousin Supriya has started a blog, wading through soup, on green parenting and desi things. Her recent post, Pretty in Pink: Can Boys Wear Pink? made it to HuffPo.

Larry Wasserman is quitting blogging.

Maybe I should get a real chef knife.

If you have a stomach for horrible things, here are some images from the Nauru immigration center, where hundreds of (mostly Iranian) asylum-seekers are kept by the Australian government (via mefi).

At Rutgers, I am going to be in a union. Recent grad student union actions have come under fire from peeved faculty at UChicago (a place with horrendous institutional politics if I have ever seen one). Corey Robin breaks it down.

GlobalSIP vs. NIPS: poster sessions

After attending GlobalSIP I flew to Reno and drove to South Lake Tahoe for NIPS 2013. NIPS is large conference that is unfortunately single-track. All papers are posters and a very small number are selected for longer oral presentation. A slightly larger number are selected for 5 minute “spotlight” advertisements. The poster session is 7-11PM for the first three days, and each poster session contains around 90 posters in a giant room. It’s very loud, and some poster presenters lose their voice for a day or two after presenting.

The contrast with GlobalSIP could not be starker. Obviously these are very different venues, but I found that all of the noise and commotion at NIPS made it nigh impossible for me to understand or retain any explanations at the poster session. Instead, I found myself circling titles in my program guide so that I could take a look at the papers later. Perhaps it was harder for me since I’m an “outsider” so I have more to learn about the basic models/assumptions in most of the papers, and I need more of an explanation than most.

In a sense a poster is “better” for the viewer because they can see what they want/need. You can get an explanation “at your level” from the poster presenter, and it’s more interactive than sitting for some 20 minute talk where the presenter feels the need to have a TOC slide (c.f. ISIT). But the lack of noise isolation and the sheer volume of posters is not ideal for actually digesting new ideas. I wonder if the NIPS model is really sustainable, and if they would ever consider going to parallel sessions. I think that even with posters, some isolation would help tremendously.

GlobalSIP 2014 : the format

I’m in Austin right now for the first GlobalSIP conference. The conference has a decentralized organization, with semi-independent day-long workshops (“symposia”) scheduled in parallel with each other. There are 8 of these, with 6 running in parallel per day, with 1 session of “plenary” talks and 2 poster sessions. Each workshop is scheduled in AAB, ABA, or BAA, where A = posters and B = plenary, so there are 2 talk sessions and 4 poster sessions running in parallel.

Fortunately, there are a wide range of topics covered in the workshops, from biology to controlled sensing, to financial signal processing. The downside is that the actual papers in each workshop often fit well with other workshops. For example, the distributed optimization posters (in which I am interested), were sprinkled all over the place. This probably has a lot to do with the decentralized effects.

In terms of the “results” at the conference, it seems from my cursory view that many people are presenting “extra” results from other conference papers, or preliminary work for future papers. This actually works well in the poster format: for the former, the poster contains a lot of information about the “main result” as well, and for the latter, the poster is an invitation to think about future work. In general I’m a little ambivalent about posters, but if you’re going to have to do ’em, a conference like this may be a better way to do it.

MIT Mystery Hunt Registration Now Open

Hi there, puzzle hunters!

We’re pleased to announce the 2014 Mystery Hunt! This year’s Hunt will begin at 12pm on Friday, January 17, 2014 in Kresge Auditorium.

Registration for this year’s Hunt is now open. Please have one member of your team register at

Instructions for unattached hunters can be found at

Just like in past years, we’ve obtained a number of rooms from the Schedules Office and will be assigning them to teams who need to use classroom space for their HQ. If you need classroom space for your HQ during Hunt, please indicate so on your registration form in the Base Reservation System section. Please do not contact the Schedules Office directly for space during Mystery Hunt, as we’ve already worked with them to reserve rooms. A list of this year’s rooms is available at

The registration deadline for teams requesting classroom space for their HQ is December 18. We ask that all teams try to register as soon as possible. We’d prefer teams to be registered by January 6, although registration will stay open right up until the beginning of the Hunt. We’d much rather receive a partially filled out registration form now with final details emailed to us in a few weeks than a fully completed registration form submitted right before the deadline.

More details about this year’s Hunt can be found at We’ll email out any major updates, but up-to-date news can also be found there.

If you have any questions, you can always reach us at

See you in January!
-the team formerly known as [the entire text of Atlas Shrugged]