One Review, Three Storms
Can you work during a snow storm?
Bill Gasarch is famous for many things: basic research in computational complexity, reviews of countless books, and co-author of the original blog on computational complexity. The last was originated, of course, by Lance Fortnow.
Today I simply want to thank him for his recent review of my book (from p13 here).
Bill is one of the founders of bounded-query complexity. Richard Beigel, who wrote his thesis on the subject, lists eight papers co-authored with Bill on this subject, some with other co-authors. See Bill’s survey here. Query complexity has come to our focus recently through its fundamental role in quantum computation.
Bill is also known for work in the nexus of additive combinatorics, Ramsey Theory, and recursion theory. He also organized a famous poll on the vs. question. Some of the answers are serious, some funny, all are interesting—definitely check it out if you have not read it before.
Bill has been the long term reviewer of books for SIGACT News—the reviews are online here. This is a invaluable service to the theory community, and we owe him a great deal of thanks for this continuing stream of hard work.
Thanks again Bill.
Dick’s Storm—This Week
Bill’s review was one of the few bright spots for me this week; I have been snowed in, stuck at home, since a major storm hit Atlanta Sunday night. Supposedly we are “Hot’Lanta,” but we’ve been pretty cold and icy the last few days. In an unprecedented move Georgia Tech canceled classes for the first three days of the semester—even on the fourth day we were half closed. My class, on graduate theory for non-majors, was supposed to start Monday. Then it switched to Wednesday but got canceled again. My part of the city is still snowed-in and treacherous, so I decided to start the course next week.
The storm was not tiny—we got about 6 inches of snow. Then cool temperatures and lots of icing. The roads are a total mess. Of course the real problem is that we are not ready for this type of weather—unlike, say, Buffalo. Some local towns have no equipment. At least Atlanta has some, but clearly not even close to the amount of plows, sand trucks, and people needed to clear the streets. Our new governor announced that he thought the response to the storm was “adequate.” Oh well.
I raise this to ask the question: how does being “stormed-in” affect research? I have no definitive answer, but some partial thoughts that I would like to share.
Ken’s Storm—Years Ago
A storm negatively affected Ken’s activity during the 2006 world championship chess match, in which he answered an open request for help assessing statistical claims that one player was cheating with a computer between moves. Chess computers are so strong now that even world champions would like access to them during matches. I find this unsettling, but that is just how it is.
There has been almost no stormy weather in Buffalo all winter. Lake-effect bands south of the city account for most of Buffalo’s winter reputation. On Columbus Day, 2006, however, there was an incredible ice storm that killed or maimed a huge portion of of the area’s trees.
Ken had started his own blog during the world chess championship match in Sep.-Oct. 2006, in which he was involved in assessing computer-cheating claims made during the match. The storm came on the eve of the Friday tie-breaker, and knocked out power so Ken couldn’t join the live Internet commentary and talk about the negative conclusions he had just reached—no cheating. When his power was restored the following Monday he posted this about the storm, and this photo essay is now on his professional page too. It seemed an act that couldn’t be followed, so he stopped his blog.
That won’t happen here. Neither rain nor will stop Ken and me from doing our thing.
Dick’s Storm—Decades Ago
You would think being snowed in would lend itself to lots of productivity. This week that was not my experience. I have been able to work on various things, but not as much as I would have liked. I think the forced isolation, where we could not even get out of our driveway, caused a cabin-fever effect.
Years ago, when I was faculty at Yale University in the late 1970’s, I got snowed in with Kelley Booth. Yale is in New Haven, which is in Connecticut which is well prepared for large snow storms. But this storm was huge and dropped two feet and closed the state. Cars were forbidden from the roads—it was one of the worst storms they had every had.
Kelly and I wound up spending two nights together in the downtown hotel near campus. Even though my house was only a few miles away, it was impossible to drive there from the hotel. I still recall eating dinner the first night at the hotel: we had steak and lobster, a wonderful meal. The second night the food was not so good. The hotel had a buffet of pretty meager pickings: we had some cold cuts and some stale bread.
Waiting out the storm Kelly and I had little to do, so we decided to try and prove some theorems. The result was a joint paper entitled: Computing Extremal and Approximate Distances in Graphs Having Unit Cost Edges. It was not the best result, but at least we had something to show for being snowed in together for 48 hours.
Do you know of other papers that have been written during a storm, or other state of emergency?