Bob Gallager on Shannon’s tips for research

One of the classes I enjoyed the most in undergrad was Bob Gallager’s digital communications class, 6.450. I was reminded of what an engaging lecturer he was yesterday when I attended the Bell Labs Shannon Celebration yesterday. Unfortunately, it being the last week of the semester, I could not attend today’s more technical talks. Gallager gave a nice concise summary of what he learned from Shannon about how to do good theory work:

  1. Simplify the problem
  2. Relate it to other problems
  3. Restate the problem in as many ways as possible
  4. Break the problem into pieces
  5. Avoid getting locked into thinking ruts
  6. Generalize

As he said, “it’s a process of doing research… each one [step] gives you a little insight.” It’s tempting, as a theorist, to claim that at the end of this process you’ve solved the “fundamental” problem, but Gallager admonished us to remember that the first step is to simplify, often dramatically. As Alfred North Whitehead said, we should “seek simplicity and distrust it.”

Multiple Postdoc Openings at USC

Prof. Urbashi Mitra is looking for multiple postdocs. Given that this is the time of year when the future looks murkiest, these are great opportunities!

I am seeking multiple post-doctoral researchers are sought with expertise in one or more areas: Communication Theory, (Statistical) Signal Processing, Controls, Information Theory, and Machine Learning. In particular, the following expertises are of interest: structured inference (sparse approximation, low rank matrix completion, tensor signal processing, graph signal processing); multi-terminal information theory, or information theory at the boundaries of control or signal processing; distributed control, consensus methods and partially observable Markov Decision Process modeling and algorithms; modern optimization methods; or biological communications, signal processing or information theory.

The successful applicants will be expected to perform innovative translational research, mentor PhD students, give oral presentations, write journal papers, and participate in grant writing and project management. There will be significant opportunities for research leadership and interaction with funding agencies.

Ideally, the successful applicants will start in Summer 2016.

Please have your interested graduate students apply using the following portal:

In addition to a cv and research statement, the applicants are requested to have three letters of reference uploaded to the system as well.

Jan Hein van Dierendonck’s Painting of Shannon

Jan Hein van Dierendonck, a science writer and illustrator/cartoonist from Leiden, recently contacted the IT Society about an oil painting he made of Claude Shannon. He has kindly given permission to post it here. It will be used by some of the Shannon Centenary events this year.

Claude Shannon, by Jan Hein van Dierendonck

Claude Shannon, by Jan Hein van Dierendonck

Claude Elwood Shannon (April 30, 1916 – February 24, 2001)

In the Forties a juggling Claude Elwood Shannon rides a unicycle down the endless hallways of Bell Labs, a telecommunications research laboratory south of New York. Perhaps this balancing act puts his brilliant mind in the right state to look at complex problems in an original way and to devise the formulas that initiate the Digital Era.

As a 21-year-old master’s degree student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Shannon wrote his thesis demonstrating that electrical applications of Boolean algebra could construct and resolve any logical, numerical relationship. In 1948 this mathematician, electronic engineer, and cryptographer published a landmark paper that laid the foundation for information theory. From that moment on, information is something computable. Whether you are dealing with images, text or sound: convert everything into zeros and ones and remove all redundant information and noise. This has changed our world completely. Without Shannon’s Information Theory, your phone simply wasn’t smart.

Averse to fame, the professor in electronics preferred tinkering with his amazing magnetic mouse in a maze with memory and his mechanic juggling robots. He also refined his Juggling Theorem: the number of hands (H) multiplied by the total time a ball spends in the air (F) and is held in a hand (D) is in balance with the number of balls (N) multiplied by the total time a hand is empty (V) and holding a ball (D).

On April 30, 2016, he would have been a hundred.


Badass women cartographers!

Looking back on Shoes.

At a DARPA PI meeting recently, I met some folks from Cybernetica who told me about the hot new startup CountryOS! (EDIT: it’s not their startup).

A recent 99% Invisible episode describes the history of the SIGSALY, a secure communication system developed during WWII that used white noise one-time pads printed on vinyl to analog-encrypt communications lines.

Thanks to The Allusionist, I learned about EuroSpeak and discovered this guide on Misused English words and expressions in EU publications, which is hilarious.

Postdoc at Rutgers ECE in Network Science and Statistical Inference

My colleague Laleh Najafizadeh has a postdoc position at Rutgers!

The NeuroImaging Laboratory at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at Rutgers University is seeking a highly motivated Postdoctoral Fellow to work on an exciting interdisciplinary project at the intersection of Neuroscience, Network Science, and Statistical Learning and Inference. The applicant will have a unique opportunity to be involved in both the theoretical and experimental development of the project.
The position is open to candidates with a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Statistics or related areas, who are self-driven, have a strong background in mathematics, and have excellent analytical and communication skills. Prior experience of working with neuroimaging data (any modality) is a plus. The appointment is available immediately and will be for 1 year.

Please email your current CV and contact information for three references to Dr. Laleh Najafizadeh at Early submission is strongly encouraged.

The Rutgers ECE NeuroImaging Laboratory is designed to accommodate both single-subject and hyperscanning multi-modal functional neuroimaging experiments, and is equipped with high- resolution EEG and optical imaging (fNIRS) systems. More information about the laboratory can be found at the lab homepage.

The laboratory is located in Rutgers University–New Brunswick, which is situated at the center of the Northeast Corridor, within 20 miles of Princeton, 40 miles of New York City and 70 miles of Philadelphia.

There exist several opportunities to collaborate with clinicians at Rutgers University. Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences is home to the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine as well as Rutgers School of Public Health. The Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, the flagship hospital of Robert Wood Johnson Health System, is also located few miles from the ECE Department.

Rutgers is an Equal Opportunity / Affirmative Action Employer.

Postdoc positions at UCLA in Coding Theory

I will write more about the IHP workshop! In the meantime, here are some exciting postdoc opportunities with my ex-classmate Lara Dolecek!

I’m writing to let you know that I have 2 postdoc positions available in my research group at UCLA, starting this summer. I am looking for talented students who want to work on one of the following:

  1. Coding theoretic methods and algorithms for emerging memories and modern computing systems
  2. New algorithms and coding-theoretic techniques for data management (data science)

Both projects are interdisciplinary. Postdocs will be working closely with me and a vibrant group of my graduate students, and will have the opportunity to collaborate with other researchers and to interact with our industry sponsors.

Strong background in mathematics and interest in interdisciplinary research are required.

I would greatly appreciate if you can pass this information to interested students.

Prospective students should contact me via email at

with subject line

[Prospective postdoc interested in LORIS research]

along with their CV and 3 selected publications. Students should plan to arrange for 2 letters of recommendation to be sent to the email address above.