Because of pollution, conferences should be virtual

Perhaps conferences made sense fifty years ago. We did not have internet, and the pollution was not as bad. Today, we can have effective virtual meetings, while the pollution has reached a level of crisis, see this moving talk by Greta_Thunberg. Moving to a system of virtual conferences is I believe a duty of every scientist. Doing so will cut the significant air travel emissions that come from shipping scientists across the world. To attend a climate summit in the USofA, Greta will sail across the Atlantic ocean on a zero emission boat.

We can keep everything the way it is, but simply give the talks online. This change doesn’t involve anybody higher up in the political ladder. It only involves us, the program chairs, the steering committees.

While we wait for that, we can begin by virtualizing the physical STOC/FOCS PC meetings, whose added value over a virtual meeting, if any, does not justify the cost; and by holding conferences where the center of mass is, instead of exotic places where one can combine the trip with a vacation at the expense of tax payers’ money and everybody’s health. And that is also why I put a bid to hold the 2021 Conference on Computational Complexity in Boston.

NSF panels, making decisions worth millions, routinely have virtual panelists (I was the last few times). So why do we insist on shipping scientists across the globe multiple times a year to give 15-minute talks which to most people are less useful than spending 20 minutes reading the paper on the arxiv?

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Statement of concern regarding Marijuana in Massachusetts

You can read it here. If you don’t want to click, some key takeaways are:

  • We disagree with how marijuana policy is being shaped in the Commonwealth.
  • The science is clear; marijuana, specifically the psychoactive chemical THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), has the potential to do significant harm to public health.
  • Diversion of high THC products (≥10%), vapes and edibles, to MA youth is a growing concern.
  • When public health is not prioritized in the regulation of addictive substances, the public and our young people are put at risk.

You can also find in the statement a list of negative effects of THC.  This is all signed by a dozen+ doctors. The various marijuana players with zero medical knowledge will probably dismiss the experts’ opinion with, at best, a shrug. Instead, they are looking into opening marijuana cafes. And the first marijuana retail store will open in Newton this Saturday.

If you want to get even more worked up about marijuana reading my previous post might help.

Finally, on June 5^th there will be a luncheon event at the JFK Library titled: Marijuana: Addiction, Mental Health and Policy – Advances in Research…What have we learned in the past 5 years?

E-ink on the move

Today I was overjoyed to notice that the MBTA is installing e-ink signs. I didn’t know about this when I wrote in the previous post that the market for e-ink monitors will be huge.

I was actually about to report more on my experience, and by another standard coincidence today a reader asks:

Some time have passed, is your evaluation the same? Did you come across any unexpected difficulties?

Well, I wrote a paper entirely in e-ink. But I regret to admit that towards the end of the semester I got really busy with the usual end-of-Spring matters at the university, and I switched back to my back-lit 30-inch Dell monitor.  I had to interact with a number of computer systems where I could not easily change font size (the story of my life), and where color tended to matter, and I felt that the new monitor was slowing me down.  I haven’t switched back to the e-ink monitor yet, partly because I am still recovering from the burst.

However I look forward to using the e-ink monitor more during this summer, especially outdoors.  Here the fact that it’s usb powered will be essential.  In the MBTA project they use solar power which I think is really cool and makes me think of bringing my monitor to the secluded off-the-grid cabin in Maine I don’t have.

A dream come true, sort of: E-ink monitors

Spending your life staring at a (traditional) computer screen may not be ideal for your eyes (and more); so since an early age I have been dreaming of a “purely mechanical” monitor that you could stare at more or less indefinitely, like at parchment.

This dream is now becoming reality, sort of.  The Dasung E-ink monitor has no backlight and instead reportedly uses electric flows to move ink droplets.

After some consideration, spending yet more hours reading reviews online and watching youtube videos about it sealed the deal.  I shelled out $1300 and bought the thing.

I have had it for a few days now and I am sort of happy. I went from using a giant 30-inch monitor far away (my theory for avoiding eye strain) to using a ~13-inch monitor at pretty much the same distance as reading a book. I had to avoid sunlight, now I seek it (see the picture).

20190307_094550

The monitor makes your computer look like Windows 3.1 on a monochrome screen from the 80’s. The refresh is slow, and there is a ghosting effect, meaning there are shadows of previous images — which you can clear out. Also, it’s 4:3 instead of 16:9, which is a pain because it means I have to change resolution when I am forced to use my other monitor (for example if I have to check colors — the screen is gray-scale, did I mention that?). It makes browsing the internet quite painful, which is a nice side effect.

Contrary to advice, I am using it as my primary monitor. I am sort of happy with it and don’t regret buying it. I have started writing and reading papers with it and it’s working well enough.

I think as soon as the technology improves the market for these things will be huge.  Already having a 17″ monitor in 16:9 ratio, ideally touch-screen, even if gray scale, would be a dream come true.

Environmental obstacles

Former EPA chief’s resignation confession-of-faith letter according to Breitbart (a website I didn’t know but that I started consulting semi-regularly):

Mr. President,

It has been an honor to serve you in the Cabinet as Administrator of the EPA. Truly your confidence in me has blessed me personally and enabled me to advance your agenda beyond what anyone anticipated at the beginning of your administration. Your current steadfastness and resolute commitment to get results for the American people both with regard to improved environmental obstacles and historical regulatory reform is a fact occurring at an unprecedented pace and I thank you for the opportunity to serve you and the American people in helping to achieve those ends. That is why it is hard for me to advise you I am stepping down as administrator of the EPA as of July 6. It is extremely difficult for me to cease serving you in this role, first because I count it as a blessing to be serving you in any capacity, but also because of the transformative work that is occurring; however, the unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us. My desire in service to you has always been to bless you as you make important decisions for the American people. I believe you are serving as president today because of God’s providence. I believe that same providence brought me in to your service. I pray as I have served you that I have blessed you and enabled you to effectively lead the American people. Thank you again Mr. President for the honor of serving you and I wish you Godspeed in all that you put your hand to.

Elsewhere

Mr. President,

It has been an honor to serve you in the Cabinet as Administrator of the EPA. Truly, your confidence in me has blessed me personally and enabled me to advance your agenda beyond what anyone anticipated at the beginning of your Administration. Your courage, steadfastness and resolute commitment to get results for the American people, both with regard to improved environmental outcomes as well as historical regulatory reform, is in fact occurring at an unprecedented pace and I thank you for the opportunity to serve you and the American people in helping achieve those ends.

That is why it is hard for me to advise you I am stepping down as Administrator of the EPA effective as of July 6. It is extremely difficult for me to cease serving you in this role first because I count it a blessing to be serving you in any capacity, but also, because of the transformative work that is occurring. However, the unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us.

My desire in service to you has always been to bless you as you make important decisions for the American people. I believe you are serving as President today because of God’s providence. I believe that same providence brought me into your service. I pray as I have served you that I have blessed you and enabled you to effectively lead the American people. Thank you again Mr. President for the honor of serving you and I wish you Godspeed in all that you put your hand to.

The letter also makes me think that I should have added “to worship God” to this list.

The EPA chief is approved by Congress. So if you care about your health get ready for November.  If you’ll be traveling start looking into absentee voting for your state.

NEWTON MUST NOT BECOME THE HUB OF MARIJUANA

If you are a resident of Newton, MA, sign this petition.

In 2016 Massachusetts voters voted to legalize Marijuana. Except they didn’t know what they were voting for! In Colorado and Washington, the question of legalization and commercialization were completely separate. The marijuana industry apparently learned from that and rigged the Massachusetts ballot question so that a voter legalizing marijuana would also be mandating communities to open marijuana stores. For Newton, MA, this means at least 8 stores. When voters were recently polled, it became clear that the vast majority did not know that this was at stake, and that the majority of them in fact does not want to open marijuana stores in their communities. For example, when I voted I didn’t know that this was at stake. Read the official Massachusetts document to inform voters, see especially the summary on pages 12-13. There is no hint that a community would be mandated by state law to open marijuana stores unless it goes through an additional legislative crusade. Instead it says that communities can choose. I think I even read the summary back then.

Now to avoid opening stores in Newton, MA, we need a new ballot question. The City Council could have put this question on the ballot easily, but a few days ago decided that it won’t by a vote of 13 to 8. You can find the list of names of councilors and how they voted here.

Note that the council was not deciding whether or not to open stores, it was just deciding whether or not we should have a question about this on the ballot.

Instead now we are stuck doing things the hard way. To put this question on the ballot, we need to collect 6000 signatures, or 9000 if the city is completely uncooperative, a possibility which now unfortunately cannot be dismissed.

However we must do it, for the alternative is too awful. Most of the surrounding towns (Wellesley, Weston, Needham, Dedham, etc.) have already opted out. So if Newton opens stores, it basically becomes the hub for west suburban marijuana users, at least some of whom would drive under the influence of marijuana (conveniently undetectable). Proposed store locations include sites on the way to elementary schools, and there is an amusing proposal to open a marijuana store in a prime Newton Center Location, after Peet’s Coffee moves out (they lost the bid for renewal of the lease). The owners of the space admit that people have asked them for a small grocery store instead, but they think that a marijuana store would bring more traffic and business to Newton Center. I told them to open a gym instead. That too would bring traffic and business, but in addition it would have other benefits that cannabis does not have.

What is the job of the EPA?

  1. To dismantle environmental regulations in exchange for gifts.
  2. To channel taxpayers’ money towards a luxurious and extravagant lifestyle for its administrator.
  3. To repudiate its own mission.
  4. All of the above.
  5. To protect human health and the environment.

Child Care at STOC 2018

The organizers asked me to advertise this and I sympathize:

We are pleased to announce that we will provide pooled, subsidized child care at STOC 2018. The cost will be $40 per day per child for regular conference attendees, and $20 per day per child for students.
For more detailed information, including how to register for STOC 2018 childcare, see http://acm-stoc.org/stoc2018/childcare.html

Ilias Diakonikolas and David Kempe (local arrangements chairs)

Exercise, diet, and sleep improve brain skills (and health)

This semester I am teaching 80 undergraduates Theory of Computation. I love the material and so every minute is precious, but I decided to sacrifice a few for a quick illustration of the title. After all, I thought to myself, it *is* my job to know, use, and disseminate teaching techniques that improve the students’ performance. So why shouldn’t I tell them the benefits of cardio exercise on learning? So this morning I scrambled together a few slides which you can see here.

I plan to add much more in future versions, but it is a euphemism to say that I am not an expert in these areas. So I’d very much appreciate any pointers, especially to what are the landmark papers in these areas.