Archive for June, 2010

SWAT 2010 (part 2)

The SWAT conference dinner involved a boat trip to an island near Bergen, with a spectacular seafood dinner of Halibut and Wolffish. Also, initiated by Fedor Fomin, SWAT reverted back to its tradition of pressuring attendants to sing (partitioned into small groups by nationality or country of residence) after the main course. Again, the organisers managed to get the atmosphere exactly right.

Invited talks

  1. On Monday, Sanjeev Arora talked about semidefinite programming and approximation algorithms. A lot has happened in this field since what he called “first generation” SDP algorithms. Some of the most recent works concerns re-evaluatating the role played by the Unique Games Conjecture.
  2. On Tuesday, Prabhakar Raghavan, now at Yahoo! Research, talked about quantitative models for user behaviour. He spent some time on models for presenting search results (in particular, images) in two dimensions – which is much less obvious than the top-to-bottom ordering that web pages are presented in. (Left-to-right, row-by-row, is not the right answer for laying out pictures in a grid, because the eye doesn’t move like that.) He used this example to also communicate broader points about the interplay between quantitative sociology, cognitive psychology, and theoretical computer science. Great stuff, and highly interesting to me both because of the “algorithmic lens” propaganda, and because I sometimes give general audience talks about the computer science behind search engines, social networks, etc.
  3. On Wednesday, Dana Randall talked about phase transitions in sampling algorithms and underlying random structures. This was right in the middle of the interplay between statistical physics and theoretical computer science that I am currently fascinated by. The talk was an algorithms-friendly introduction filled with rapidly mixing Markov chains, crisp combinatorics, Ising and Potts models, and colloids (which I hadn’t seen before.)

SWAT 2010 (part 1)

I am attending SWAT in surprisingly sunny Bergen.

The biannual SWAT is the oldest European conference devoted to algorithms. (ICALP is a lot older, and STACS slighly, but both have a wider focus.) It rotates around the Scandinavian countries (with a single exception in 2006) and in 2010 Bergen is, again, the host.

Bergen has a large algorithms group with a bunch of postdocs and graduate students, and this makes a large difference for organising a successful conference. A lot of heart and energy has gone into this, and the atmosphere is absolutely splendid. Even the weather in Bergen seems to, so far, play along.

The Sunday evening reception was on a roof terrace, with live music, wine, and snacks. Several activities were arranged for Monday evening, and I was lucky to be among the handful of people who went sailing on a small sailing boat, late in the evening, under the Northern sun, with a view of beautiful Bergen and the surrounding coastline. Brilliant.

Business meeting

At the business meeting, Magnus Halldorson reported on the steering committee’s thoughts about SWAT. Four changes have been implemented at SWAT 2010:

  1. Name change. SWAT’s name is now “Scandinavian Symposium and Workshops on Algorithm Theory,” rather than “Scandinavian Workshop on Algorithms Theory.” The “workshop” monicker in the original name has been a recurring problem for SWAT attendants who tried to secure travel money, looks bad on CVs outside of our narrow community, and even made it difficult for previous local organisers to attract outside funding.
  2. Economy. SWAT registration fees are seldom cheap because of the high prices in Scandinavia, and Norway is currently extra expensive due to currency exchange rates. Still, the steering committee wants SWAT to remain economically viable for a large number of attendants. The local organisers managed to secure significant outside funding, so that registration fees only make up 30% of the total revenue. Most of the money came from the Norwegian Research Council and Bergen University.
  3. Time slot. SWAT 2010 takes place around Midsummer, rather than the traditional week “before ICALP,” typically the first week of July. I think the SWAT 2010 date makes a lot of sense, but it is unclear whether this will be a long term change. A show of hands from the attendants at the business meeting was slightly in favour of the earlier time slot.
  4. International conference. The steering committee made it clear that SWAT is an international conference with an international PC and no special attention paid to Scandinavian papers. (I note that this SWAT has a total of zero papers from Sweden and Finland.) Moreover, the programme committee and the organising committee are completely de-coupled.

I think these decisions represent a very welcome re-alignment of how SWAT views itself. The attendees of the business meeting seemed to be happy as well.

PC chair Haim Kaplan gave a short overview of the work of the programme committee. The most interesting point is that SWAT 2010 attracted 78 submissions this year, which is markedly less than for previous SWATs. This year, the SWAT submission deadline was before the notification of SOCG 2010 because of the June time slot, which may account for a decrease of the number of submissions in computational geometry, traditionally a thematic focus of SWAT.

A brief discussion was devoted to publication models for contributed SWAT papers; currently the conference is published in Springer’s LNCS series.

Petteri Kaski successfully invited SWAT 2012 to Helsinki.