Wednesday, January 7, 2009

SODA 09

I got back from SODA last night amidst the snow (NYC) and rain (DC). I suspect that somewhere in the middle it was ice, so I hope the folks that were driving made it home safely.

Chazelle's talk on "Natural Algorithms" was a highlight. I also have no desire to focus on minute changes in run times, so I enjoy the talks that introduce new problems the most. By that measure, Chazelle's talk was especially good. He discussed the convergence time of a flock of birds, but more generally introduced (or probably re-introduced) the idea of examining natural phenomena through an algorithmic lens. One of the problems I've been thinking about also involves bird flight - can we calculate the migratory path of birds in an online manner as they fly? I suspect that looking at it from the birds' perspective instead of an all-seeing perspective would also be interesting. So perhaps my enjoyment of the talk was really because it related to my work, but I'd say that it related to many problems and that's what made it good. (Of course, he's an excellent speaker... his talk on "How to Win the Best Paper Award" was given at the business meeting.)

I also enjoyed the talk and paper by Yi and Zhang, "Multi-Dimensional Online Tracking." The talk was scheduled right after lunch on the last day, so if you missed it, that might be why. They considered the problem of online maintenance of an approximate value for a changing function. Again, it's related to my work so I'm biased, but I appreciated the problem and thought the 1D solution was especially clean. It's worth a read, or at least a skim.

The proceedings this year were distributed on a CD instead of printed. Abstractly, I think this is a great idea, since after the conference I would be unlikely to look at the hard copy of the proceedings... but I missed them during the conference. Still, if they're keeping the proceedings online and free permanently, it's a net win.

Overall, it was an enjoyable conference. It was good to see/meet some of you. I'm sad to return to "the real world" in which I have a lot of work to catch up on...

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