2014 IEEE North American School on Information Theory

Via Serdar Yüksel and the IT Society, the 2014 IEEE North American School on Information Theory will be held at the Fields Institute in Toronto this June. The lecturers for this school are:



A taste test for fish sauces.

My friend Ranjit is working on this Crash Course in Psychology. Since I’ve never taken psychology, I am learning a lot!

Apparently the solution for lax editorial standards is to scrub away the evidence. (via Kevin Chen).

Some thoughts on high performance computing vs. Map Reduce. I think about this a fair bit, since some of my colleagues work on HPC, which feels like a different beast than a lot of the problems I’ve been thinking about.

A nice behind-the-scenes on Co-Op Sauce, a staple at Chicagoland farmers’ markets.

ITA 2014 Talk: MAP Perturbations and Measure Concentration

Due to weather issues, I was unable to make it on time to ITA to give my talk, which is based on an ArXiV preprint with Francesco Orabona, Tamir Hazan, and Tommi Jaakkola. The full work will be presented at ICML 2014 this summer. I decided to give the talk anyway and upload it to YouTube (warning: single take, much stammering):

I have a Mac, so I used the screencast recording features of QuickTime Player, as recommended to me by Manu Sridharan. Worked like a charm.

I plan to post a bit more about this problem later (I know, promises, promises), but in the meantime, this talk is mostly background about the MAP perturbation framework.

Graham Cormode on how to not review a paper

I think during my time hanging out with machine learners, no topic has received as much attention as the quality of the review process for competitive conferences. My father passed along this paper by Graham Cormode on “the tools and techniques of the adversarial reviewer”, which should be familiar to many. I had not seen it before, but a lot of the “adversarial” techniques sounded familiar from reviews I have received. I also wonder to what extent reviews I have written could be interpreted as deliberately adversarial. I don’t go into the review process that way, but it’s easy to ascribe malign intent to negative feedback.

Cormode identifies 4 characteristics of the adversarial reviewer: grumpiness, elitism, peevishness, and arrogance. He then identifies several boilerplate approaches to writing a negative review, specific strategies for different sections of the paper, and the art of writing pros and cons for the summary. My favorite in this latter section is that the comment “paper is clearly written” really means “clearly, the paper has been written.”

As Cormode puts it himself at the end of the paper: “I am unable to think of any individual who consistently acts as an adversarial reviewer; rather, this is a role that we can fall into accidentally when placed under adverse conditions.” I think this is all-to-true. When reviewing the 9th paper for a conference with 3 weeks to do all 9, the patience of the reviewer may be worn a bit thin, and it’s easy to be lazy and not take the paper on its own merits. What’s certainly true, however, is that “editors and PC members” often do not “realize when a review is adversarial.” In part this is because as a research community, we don’t want to acknowledge that there are real problems with the review process that need fixing.

From 300 Ramayanas to The Hindus

With the recent furor over Penguin’s decision to pulp copies of Wendy Doniger‘s The Hindus after some intense pressure, I was reminded of Delhi University’s decision to ban a much less “controversial” essay by A.K. Ramanujan entitled Three Hundred Ramayanas. It’s a wonderful piece of writing and well worth a read. What it points to is the vast plurality of traditions and interpretations.

Mimosa reposted a couple of responses to the recent events that are also worth reading.

A bookmarklet for the Rutgers University Library Proxy server

I made a bookmarklet for the Rutgers Library’s proxy server by changing the URL format from the UChicago ProxyIt! link:


You can cut and paste that into a link in the bookmarks bar of your browser.

If you’re working from home and want to get access a resource (for example, a journal paper) that requires Rutgers authentication, you can just make this bookmarklet into a button and it will redirect you authenticate via NetID. This requires that JavaScript be turned on in your browser.