Oddly Shaped Pegs

An inquiry into the Nature and Causes of Stuff

Archive for February 2009

Bringing crypto online

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John Langford recently blogged about the “vetocracy” that is the dominant CS conference reviewing process. I agree that there are many problems with the process. That is good fodder for a whole sequence of posts; just not today. I did, however, seize on a point that John made along the way:

“It’s hard to imagine any research community surviving without a serious online presence. When a prospective new researcher looks around at existing research, if they don’t find serious online discussion, they’ll assume it doesn’t exist under the “not on the internet so it doesn’t exist” principle. This will starve a field of new people. […]”

So what about cryptography? There are of course millions of good and bad web resources about computer security. But there is very little about foundational “crypto” as it appears at conferences like Crypto or Eurocrypt, PKC, SFE, CHES, etc (never mind TCC, STOC or FOCS).

  • Blogs: Luca Trevisan blogs actively about topics in theoretical CS, including cryptography. Luca has more crypto in his little finger than most “cryptographers” have in their whole body. Still, crypto remains a minor topic on his blog (exceptions: lecture notes, STOC ’09 picks).
  • Wikipedia: this is an odd metric of “online-ness”, but nonetheless revealing: wikipedia entries for theoretical crypto are very limited (indeed, for TCS generally). I’m  experimenting this semester to see if the students in my class can help, but that will still be just a drop in the sea. For a sampling of what’s out there, see Wikipedia’s Theoretical Crypto category.
  • Mailing lists, discussion fora: Nada?
  • Other resources: Oded Goldreich maintains  variety of ad hoc web pages on aspects of crypto and complexity theory. Perhaps most relevant here is his selection of recent papers in TCS. Upside: it is fascinating to get Oded’s take on anything; downside: the noninteractive format makes the information flow, well, one way.

I will attempt to contribute in my copious free time, in particular, I hope, by blogging about papers at the upcoming TCC. But that’s a relatively minor contribution.

Some questions, then: What resources would help us advance TC as a field and as a scientific community? How can we get more “serious online discussion”? (What resources are out there already that aren’t listed above?)

Update (7/9/09): Since I initially wrote this post, a few more theory-of-crypto blogs have come to my attention, notably Jon Katz’s.  Helger Lipmaa maintains a list of crypto blogs (or, more accurately, blogs by cryptographers) here.

Written by adamdsmith

February 23, 2009 at 11:54 am

Posted in Crypto 2.0, science 2.0

Oddly Shaped Pegs

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Not all scientific ideas fit neatly into the standard, round-hole formats of academic publication. These square pegs are still important, though, and blogs provide a forum for at least some of them. As Michael Nielsen writes in a recent essay,

“Many of the best blog posts contain material that could not easily be published in a conventional way… You can think of blogs as a way of scaling up scientific conversation, so that conversations can become widely distributed in both time and space.”

These misfit ideas include interesting technical ideas that are not substantial enough to merit a conference paper, but also meta-discussions about research: how a given community is organized, what makes for good writing, what makes a proof “deep”, etc.

For lack of a better venue, this blog is a place to collect my own oddly shaped pegs.

And anything else I feel like throwing in.

Written by adamdsmith

February 22, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Posted in about this blog