Oddly Shaped Pegs

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Archive for the ‘science 2.0’ Category

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

Copyright, copywrong

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Michaels Nielsen and Mitzenmacher pointed out a recent post by Harvard’s Stuart Shieber about the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that is the implicit norm in scholarly publications, at least in computer science.

“Publishers officially forbid online distribution, authors do it anyway without telling the publishers, and publishers don’t ask them to stop even though it violates contractual obligations. What happens when you refuse to play that game?”

I recommend reading the whole thing. Shieber does post his papers online and, unlike many authors, he makes sure to attach an addendum to any copyright agreements with publishers to ensure that he is not in breach of contract. Publishers almost never complain, he says.

“In retrospect, this may make sense.  Since the contractual modification applies only to a single article by a single author, it is unlikely that anyone looking for copyright clearance would even know that all copyright hadn’t been assigned to the publisher.  And in any case publishers must realize that authors act as if they have a noncommercial distribution license…”

I will consider using the Science Commons addenda for future copyright agreements with publishers. But just to share my own story: When we submitted the final version of the fuzzy extractors paper to SICOMP (SIAM Journal on Computing), Leo Reyzin suggested we explicitly modify SIAM’s copyright agreement to make it a “publication agreement” that confers only non-exclusive publication rights to SIAM. The revised agreement let us retain all other publications rights, including free online distribution via sites of our choice. For my readers’ entertainment, here is our modified agreement with SIAM, which SIAM accepted without comment.

Finally, David Eppstein points out that free online journals make all the hassle so last century.

P.S.: For a great radio show about what people usually mean by “don’t ask, don’t tell”, listen to the June 16 episode of NPR’s Fresh Air, in which Terry Gross interviews Nathaniel Frank, author of Unfriendly Fire.

Written by adamdsmith

July 7, 2009 at 4:36 pm

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