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Showing posts from December, 2009

The Best Things about 2009

Being the end of the year, I think it's appropriate to reflect on some of the best things that happened in 2009.

Best use of official signature: graduating two Ph.D. students. I'm finally no longer a leaf node on the academic genealogy. Two of my graduate students, Bor-rong Chen and Konrad Lorincz, finished their degrees this fall, and I am insanely proud of them. It is really amazing to look back on all of their hard work over the last few years and reflect on what they accomplished. At the same time it's kind of sad to no longer have them in my group, although Bor-rong is sticking around as a postdoc on a new project that we have going with the Wyss Institute. (I'm kind of hoping he never leaves!)

Best application of Fernet Branca: The Toronto Cocktail. Fernet was a pre-2009 discovery, to be sure, but this particular combination of rye, Fernet, simple syrup, and bitters is by far the best way to mix it. I've been teaching bartenders around Boston how to make it; id…

How to get your papers accepted

Like most faculty, I serveonalotofconferenceprogramcommittees. I estimate I review O(10^2) papers a year for various conferences and journals. When reviewing so many papers, it is amazing to me how many authors make simple mistakes that make it so much more difficult to review (let alone accept!) their papers. Keep in mind that when reviewing 25+ papers for a program committee, you have to do them fairly quickly and the easier it is for the reviewer to digest your paper and get to the core ideas, the more likely they are to look favorably on the paper. I tend to review papers while on the elliptical machine at the gym, which also helps to tamp down any physical aggression I might feel while reading them. (Of course, I have to go back and write up my comments later, but usually in a post-exercise state of unusual mental clarity.)

A few hints on getting papers accepted -- or at least not pissing off reviewers too much.

1. Spellchcek.

Seriously, how hard is it to run your paper through a sp…

Post-NSDI PC Meeting Mini-Symposium

Today was the First Post-NSDI Program Committee Meeting Mini-Systems Symposium at Harvard (PNSDIPCMMSS@H2009). That is, I invited four of the NSDI'10 PC members -- Chip Killian, Dejan Kostic, Phil Levis, and Timothy Roscoe -- to give short talks at Harvard on their current research, since they were in Boston for the PC meeting anyway. It was a lot of fun - for me, anyway. Everyone else at least got a free lunch.

Chip started off with a talk on Understanding Distributed Systems, at least those implemented using Mace. He gave an overview of the Mace language (which is one of my favorite pieces of languages-meets-systems work from the past decade) and the application of model checking to automatically verify Mace programs. This, to me, is the main reason we need better high-level languages for specifying complex systems: so we can build useful tools that let us understand how those systems behave before and during deployment.

Phil gave a kind of far-out talk on a new system they are bu…

Digg for grant proposal reviews

I am a huge fan of the social news site Digg. It is where I go to get my daily dose of Internet stupidity, ranging from XKCD comics to pictures of fail. For those that have been living in a cave the last five years, the way it works is that users submit links to random sites they find on the Internet, and those that like the link "digg" it, thereby increasing the link's popularity. Tracking Digg is a good way to keep your finger on the pulse of the Internet, or more accurately, the segment of the Internet that 15-to-22 year old boys seem to care about.

The best part of the site are the incredible comments left by the users. Often these are funnier and more obtuse than the original link, and Digg comments are something of a genre in and of themselves (good examples being repeated ASCII-rendered appearances of Admiral Akbar and something called Pedobear). Indeed, occasionally the comments can get out of hand.

Here's a crazy idea that I came up with (incidentally, while h…

How to get into grad school

A bunch of students are now applying to graduate schools, and to help them out, every year I give a talk on getting into grad schools in Computer Science (click the link for the slides). Luis von Ahn has an amusing post about the process on his blog - all of his suggestions ring true.

The key thing that gets under my skin about graduate applications is the personal statement. All too often, applicants see this as an opportunity to tell their life story, especially about some experience they had with computers as a kid. "Since I was nine years old..." is the most common opening line in these statements. Frankly, I don't care about any of that. I am looking for potential grad students who have a mature and serious outlook about research. Of course, the best way to demonstrate that is to actually have done some research as an undergrad -- and putting together the Web site for your a cappella group doesn't count. My suggestion is for students to model the personal stateme…