Oddly Shaped Pegs

An inquiry into the Nature and Causes of Stuff

Archive for February 2010

2010 Sloan Fellows

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Once again this year, theorists and their friends were well represented among the Sloan Research Fellows. These are the names I recognize:

  • Joel Tropp
  • Jonathan Kelner
  • Constantinos Daskalakis
  • Amin Saberi
  • Brent Waters
  • Bal√°zs Szegedy

Congratulations to all!

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Written by adamdsmith

February 17, 2010 at 11:00 pm

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Collaborative tools?

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Like most theorists I collaborate a lot with remote colleagues1. Recent technological developments like the telephone have made this much easier, but I am ready to move on to something even more advanced.

I have started to use this Internet thing. For example, I use cvs or subversion on most projects to track and synchronize files (see Suresh’s recent post for an explanation of why). I call people on Skype when the connection is good enough for video, and use a mix of email, IM and Wave2 to jot down notes in real time about the conversation.

One thing is missing in my collaborative online life, though, and that is a good white board. Ideally, I would like a live holographic image of my colleagues in my office, together with sound and a remotely controllable marker for my whiteboard. Until I write a paper with the doctor from Star Trek Voyager, I’m willing to settle for something less ambitious: an interactive white board on which several people can simultaneously draw, paste/drop in graphics, and write text and latex equations that get formatted in real time.

There are a few free web services and software packages out there that offer something along these lines:

  • Scriblink: this has a lot of what I want but a very clunky interface.
  • Imagination^3: better drawing interface, no latex/math support
  • Latex plugins for Gaim: adds simple latex support to most IM platforms. No drawing. Also, annoying to install on a Mac since it requires a bunch of other packages to be installed first.
  • Jarnal: haven’t tried it yet.

A question for readers, then: what other similar tools are out there? More generally, what software has improved your remote collaborations?


1 I mean physically remote. Some of them are also emotionally remote, but so far neither the telephone nor the Internet have helped them.

2 Although Google’s recent Buzz privacy fiasco made me reconsider using Wave.

Written by adamdsmith

February 14, 2010 at 9:49 pm

A private event

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It wasn’t exactly in stealth mode, but I heard about Data Privacy Day 2010 only after it happened.

Born of an effort to promote awareness of data privacy issues by the non-profit The Privacy Projects, this year’s celebration (?) included events at a several universities. Most interesting to me was a roundtable discussion at UC Berkeley sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission. I’m skeptical about how much the federal government will do about protecting privacy, but it is good to see serious interest.

This year’s events concentrated on consumer privacy and its apparent conflict with emerging business models. My recent research has been on handling privacy concerns in “statistical databases” — large collections of sensitive information that we would like to open up to wider scrutiny and analysis. Unsurprisingly, I would like to see “Data Privacy Day” also cover this aspect of data privacy. There is a danger, though, that the topic becomes too diffuse. What are really the most pressing privacy issues, and what should a broad “data privacy” awareness event cover?

UPDATE (2/3/10): Arvind was part of the roundtable and has some notes on it at 33 bits. He includes there some interesting comments on academics’ participation in policy discussions. I’ll add only that at Penn State, quite a few faculty members are involved in policy, but mostly away from the public eye. For example, two weeks ago I met with a White House official about privacy issues in the release of government data sets; I’ve also been involved in (executive branch) panels on government handling of biometric data. However, it is true that public participation in policy discussions by academics is limited. That may be because many academics realize they would make bad politicians; as Arvind notes, misaligned incentives also play a role.

Written by adamdsmith

February 2, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Posted in Data privacy

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