Thursday, December 29, 2005

Sad event in Conference in India

A terrorist strike took place in the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore where an International Operations Research conference was going on, organized by the Indian Operations Research Society. Mathematics professor M.C. Puri of IIT Delhi was shot dead, and at least four others were injured.

Professor Puri is remembered as a jovial, polite, and humble man, and a devoted faculty member of the Institute (IIT-Delhi).

One of the injured is Professor Vijay Chandru, a well-known computer scientist in the fields of optimization/geometry, etc. Vijay is an active member of the Indian Association for Research in Computer Science, and has chaired the Annual conference FST-TCS in the past. He also co-invented the Simputer, a radical concept in computing for developing nations.

My heart goes out to the families and colleagues of Professor Puri and the injured. One of the newspaper articles mentions that the injured are out of danger, a modest silver lining.


From the "if you haven't seen it, it's new to you" department:

Cryptographer/Theoretical Computer Scientist Manoj Prabhakaran taught a course on expanders at the University of Illinois this Fall semester. Besides the links to other excellent courses on expanders, Manoj organized a course blog where students recapped various lectures. The part new to me: one of the course "requirements" was that students were encouraged to post articles to the "expanders" section of Wikipedia. While I don't see many articles on expanders that were ostensibly created by students of this course, I think this is a brilliant idea -- there's an important difference between transcribing course notes and writing Wikipedia articles. With your LaTeX hat on, you know you're writing for fellow "Doctorate in Expanders" diploma holders, but when you're writing Wikipedia articles, you have a hazier picture of your reader as a reasonably smart, somewhat scientific, citizen on the net (a good approximation is often a smart first-year graduate student). Good writing practice for graduate students. Way to go, Manoj.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Farewell to the San Jose Earthquakes

It has happened again: another US professional sports team relocated, with all the usual griping about stadium/facilities, the usual cold business logic interfering with passionate fandom, everything. The scale is smaller -- Major League Soccer team San Jose Earthquakes are moving to Houston. Why? No one knows. The Quakes have a rich history in the Bay area, dating back at least 30 years (on and off, along with rise and fall of pro-soccer in the U.S.), have a strong fan base and ties to the community, etc.

Unfortunately, for its "owner/operator" Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), it wasn't enough. The deal they had with San Jose State University, whose Spartan Stadium the Quakes played in (and which was home to the first match of the MLS), wasn't sweet enough for AEG -- they didn't get as much of the revenue-sharing from parking/beverage-snack-sale, etc. as they wanted. No other local investor wanted to buy them (although some, notably due to the tireless efforts of SoccerSiliconValley, a grassroots organization, tried) unless a city-funded stadium proposal came through. Which, of course, didn't, since it would be a heavy tax-burden, probably wouldn't pass the voter-approval it requires, not to mention the fact that during the crucial discussion time the mayor of San Jose was embroiled in his own set of problems (a censure from the city council), etc.

The sad part is that no party got creative enough. Let's face it, soccer isn't as popular in the U.S. as (American) football and basketball and baseball are; if a team plays 15 home games with an average attendance of 12 to 15 thousand fans who buy tickets at an average price of (say) $20, it just isn't enough (since the other revenue --- merchandise, etc. isn't a whole lot more, either) for a pro-team to thrive. (Of course, none of this explains why moving to Houston would solve the problems.) It's sad that the direction MLS is heading, every team wants its own "soccer-specific stadium", and some have got it (the Home Depot Center shared by two L.A. teams, Chicago, NYC, Washington, DC, Columbus, Dallas..). I am guessing that when attendance is low (as happened this past season in Columbus, OH, with a team that sucked), the soccer-specific stadia are more of a money drain (to the community at large).

What does creative mean here? Any time there is an endeavor that a non-trivial but not terribly large number of people support (e.g., symphony, soccer, etc), this issue comes up again and again. In the present case, there is a large soccer fan base that is, unfortunately, spread quite a bit across Northern California; the Earthquakes could have played half their home games in Spartan and the other half somewhere north of the Golden Gate Bridge -- fewer games might have meant more-packed stadia, probably forcing SJSU to commit to better revenue-sharing. More fans would be able to watch the Quakes, broadening the Quakes fan base. As it turned out, the move to Houston only hurts all parties concerned -- Quakes fans lost their team, SJSU lost good revenue, AEG needs to rebuild a fan base in Houston (where it has similar stadium issues to deal with momentarily), players will be playing their matches at an average summer temperature of 90--95 deg. Farenheit.

Good luck to the Quakes players and coaches -- they were an amazing bunch, they worked their hearts out on the field and off the field (involvement in youth soccer, primarily). At least they are moving to a place that's more affordable with a United States pro-soccer player's salary.

Friday, December 09, 2005


Tulane University is eliminating its undergraduate programs in CS and EE, and laying off about 230 faculty members. I understand that it must have been a really difficult decision, but this quote makes me wonder:
"This is the most significant reinvention of a university in the United States in over a century," declared Scott Cowen, the university's president.
Reinvention? I thought that was a positive word.

Anyone who has been involved in recruiting at academic/research institutions will appreciate the pain of having, at some point, to find 230 highly-talented academics and convince them to join an institution.

Aren't there other solutions? Creative ones? It seems reasonable to believe that much of Tulane's budget comes from tuition and alumni donations, and I don't understand why that should suddenly vanish once the school is back in business. And students are inherently a floating population -- I don't know what fraction of Tulane's student body is heavily rooted to New Orleans.

Somehow this drastic step seems just wrong. In times of tragedy, art and science and craft and philosophy need to go on, and in fact, go on more vigorously.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Dirichlet, home-schooling, and Wikipedia

The results for the Siemens Westinghouse Math, Science, and Technology competition for highschoolers are out -- Michael Viscardi, a home-schooled teenager from San Diego is the winner for his work on the Dirichlet problem. It's nice to see a teenager able to produce new mathematical work; I always find it disappointing that similar competitions, eg., the Intel contest, always produce lots of entries/winners in the "natural sciences" and rarely in mathematics. This years finalists also included an entry in "computer science", specifically related to the area of search -- cool.

On the other hand, since home-schooled children often enjoy a curriculum tailored to their individual pace of learning, should we consider Michael's "school age" closer to 20?

Incidentally, when I probed the Internet to read about what Dirichlet problems are, I was astounded to see an entry in the Wikipedia that already includes a mention of Viscardi's work. The power of the web...