My last 3.5 years

I haven’t breathed (freely) since 3.5 years ago.  Precisely since the day before I left my Cambridge flat, when the Pods guy told me he couldn’t park. I had to vacate within 24 hours, had no place to put all the stuff I had never used since moving there in 2008, and also happened to have a 3-hour CPR course planned long ago, starting in minutes.  I took that life-saving course on the edge of the seat, each 5-minute break dashing out to call movers who might have had an unlikely last minute cancellation in the busiest day of the year (August 31).

Oh the times I wished that the fireproof storage where the things eventually went burned down to the ground.  Instead I was going to have to move my never used belongings a million times up and down stairs.

Anyway, after Cambridge I went to the Simons institute. Even with all the help from the staff, finding housing was atrocious, and I had to change it during the semester. I didn’t have a place to come back, and from Berkeley I eventually found a short-term rental in Needham, MA.  The idea was to buy a house in that short term.  This proved impossible.  So we had to find another rental.  In the process, I was discriminated against three times.  One time the landlord rejected in writing my application claiming that they did not want to rent to families. The other two times the landlord simply rejected my application, and then lowered the price. I thought these moves made them dumb, but maybe they are actually much smarter than me, because after toying with the idea I did not, in fact, sue.

Eventually we found another longer-term rental.  From there, with more excruciating difficulties I wrote about earlier, I bought a house, which however required 1 year of renovations (not exactly cosmetic — more about this later).  These were completed just in time to store my useless stuff there: I left for another semester at the Simons institute.

My second visit to the institute was also great.  In fact I enjoyed it even more than the semester on fine-grained: I was there for the program on lower bounds, which are exactly the problems I went into computer science to study. I had the best time, and lots of research exchanges.

But again, the housing situation in Berkeley was desperate.  Twice I lost a house for 1 hour. Meaning, the landlord called to make the deal, I couldn’t pick up the phone, and when I called back 1 hour later the place was gone.  I still think it would be better if the institute bought a block of houses, and also provided computers.  Even better if they make it easier to print, rather than having to stand in a corner or go through a complicated set up.

Another interesting pattern is that during my first visit there was a heat wave and the AC broke, and it was hot.  This time there was a rather serious wildfire, causing very unhealthy conditions in the bay area, and at times they couldn’t run the heating systems to avoid sucking in the smoke, and it was cold.

Berkeley isn’t Princeton, but it’s hard for me not to compare the logistics of my visits to Simons and the IAS in Princeton.  In the latter I was put in a house steps from the Institute, with minimal effort and at a fraction of the price.  In my office there was already a working computer, connected to a printer.

Here’s the meaning of cloud computing, remote desktop, telnet, etc in 2019, here’s the progress, the sustainability, the sharing economy: everybody brings their own laptop.

Back from Simons, I can’t help but be surprised that I still have an office.  In fact this happens every time I go up the stairs, turn the corner and see my name on the tag, and it says “Professor”. Really? Under my name? I have a startle each time.  I know this feeling is irrational, but is there.  Coming back from California, the feeling is intense.

Back to business, I am now teaching algorithms.  I am running an online section, for which I am making videos on my youtube channel. It’s the future.

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