Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Quake 5.6

5.6 Magnitude EarthquakeYesterday night, I have felt an earthquake of magnitude 5.6 on the Richter scale. At the time, I was playing boardgames in Mountain View and all the tables started moving slightly and then stopped. No damage or injury was caused by the earthquake, but immediately people called their friends on cellphones to check on them and to tell them they are OK. I didn't call because it was 4 AM in Israel. I decided I'll blog on it when I get home. When I did get home, I started writing this post, but I fell asleep due to jet lag.

In other news, I'm giving a talk today at the group lunch as the person who was planned to talk today had to cancel. I'm giving the same talk I gave at Dagstuhl, so it should be easy for me.

Friday, October 26, 2007

My talks at Dagstuhl

My Dagstuhl Nametag (October 2007)Yesterday I have given my planned talk at the Dagstuhl seminar about Selection Games and Deterministic Lotteries ( it's always good to have an oxymoron in your titles). The talk went well and people were quite interested, given that many of the reviewers in the AAMAS conference where I submitted this paper were in the audience, I think my chances are good.

However, what I really wanted to talk about are the talks I gave today. Today we had a rump session, which is a special session where anyone can give 5 minute talks on any topic he or she wishes. Out of six talks, I gave two. One of the talks was about my work-in-progress regarding the manipulation of academic conferences.

The second talk of mine was humorous, and talked about manipulating the seating arrangements in Dagstuhl. Recall that researchers are seated randomly for meals in order to facilitate communication. My talk was a joke about this issue. If you are interested, take a look at the talk slides, posted exclusively on my blog. The issues of Manipulation, Bribery and Control are common considerations in the world of voting, all photos were taken during the seminar with my iPAQ camera.

Now I'm back at my brother's house until Sunday when I am going to fly FRA-EWR-SFO and return to Stanford.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A paper with Vince

Dagstuhl Seminar group pictureI am having a good time at Dagstuhl Seminar 07431 on Computational Issues in Social Choice. Almost all talks are very interesting and I had some good conversations with some of the people here.

On Tuesday there was an open discussion about complexity of voting. While participating in this discussion, it became clear to me that there is something very wrong with most of the existing works on complexity of manipulating elections, and only very few papers dealt with the problem in the approach I consider more correct.

[If you are not interested in details about my research, skip the next two paragraphs]

It turned out that the principal authors of two of these papers are here at the seminar. I spent the night* between Tuesday and Wednesday thinking about this problem, and on Wednesday morning I had a developed idea. After telling Vince about it, he reminded me of the general Gibbard theorem, a corollary of which removes any hope of pursuing my crypto idea.

So, I let go of the crypto direction, and instead considered voting under partial information. There was limited work done on the subject, and I had some good ideas on how to model the problem. On Wednesday after lunch I got Vince interested, and together we managed to prove two interesting impossibility results and have some very important observations regarding this problem. As it seems, this work is on the way to become a paper.

I am very happy to be able to write a joint paper with Vince Conitzer.  I have known him since the first conference I attended in my PhD, which, as luck may have it, was a Dagstuhl seminar. Since then, I have met him in every conference I have attended. He has published over 40 papers, even though he has just recently finished his PhD, some of them with groundbreaking results.

* The reason I am working nights is my partial adaptation to jet lag, I go to sleep after dinner at 19:00 and wake up at about 3:00, I get enough sleep and don't miss any talks, even though I don't really live in the right timezone.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Abflug nach Deutschland

Approximate flight path to Frankfurt(that is, departure to Germany for those of you who don't know German)

Yes, I'm flying again, this today my itinerary is SFO-IAH-AMS-FRA (that's San Francisco, Houston, Amsterdam, Frankfurt), and then a train to Saarbruecken. The plan is to fly to Germany for a conference and visit my brother on the way. I'm going to be there for 10 days. I'm all packed (well, except my laptop) and in an hour I'll be boarding the shuttle to the airport to start my journey.

In order to qualify for platinum I need about 3000 more miles. If I do not get any other trip funded this year, I'm considering doing a mileage run to West Palm Beach or to Boston. In the case of Boston, I might want to stay there for up to a week. Honolulu is also an option, although more expensive and with less miles.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Yahoo! Games

Yahoo! GamesOn Monday I spent my evening playing board games at Yahoo! If you are thinking I spent my time staring at a computer screen, then you are wrong. I drove to Yahoo's campus in Sunnyvale (about 16 minutes from my house) and joined a meeting of South Bay Boardgamers, a group that meets every Monday on Yahoo!'s campus to play board games.

Today I played Vegas Showdown and Clippers. The former has (surprisingly enough) nothing to do with gambling (but a lot to do with bidding), and the latter features ships of different colors that do not belong to any of the players. Both games were interesting and full of strategy (Clippers more so).

This is the second time I attend such a meeting (last time it was Silicon Valley Boardgamers). In both times I've learned new games I've never seen before. I'm enjoying myself very much here.

Monday, October 15, 2007


DMV logoToday I got a license. Not for software, but a driver's license. As of today, I am a fully licensed driver in the state of California. As I have mentioned earlier, I had to pass both a written and a driven exam. Today I passed the driven exam and immediately got a temporary license.

My plastic license will be mailed in 10 days, and then I will be just like any American with a Social Security Number, credit and debit card, and a driver's license. I can't vote and don't have a US passport, but then again, most Americans don't vote or have a passport either.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

I see dead people

Body WorldsToday was a Saturday, and in the US most things are still open on Saturday, so I decided to go to the Tech museum in San Jose, which was recommended to me by several people at Stanford.

The Tech by itself is an average science museum, not too impressive. However, now at The Tech there is a temporary exhibition called Body Worlds 2. This special exhibition shows real bodies of dead people who were preserved using a special technique called plastination. The exhibiion shows full bodies and body parts and demonstrates the structure and function of various organs in the human body.

The most stunning part of this exhibition were various diseased organs, such as kidneys with tumors, smokers' lungs, and aortas with fatty residue. I have less enjoyed the bodies places in various poses, as I do not think these poses serve a real scientific purpose, but only have artistic merit.

After completing the body exhibition, I returned to the main museum and toured the permanent exhibitions. The exhibitions were quite standard science museum exhibitions, though I liked the fact that many exhibitions allowed you to view stuff online after your visit. For example, here is me caught red-handed by a thermal camera (click to enlarge):

Thermal image of me

Update: Here are some glowing bacteria I have made:

Glowing Bacteria

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

New gallery and pictures from Mexico

I am experimenting with some photo gallery software. I have just installed Gallery on my hosted server and uploaded my pictures from Mexico including pictures taken by the other travellers on the trip to the pyramids.

You can visit the gallery site at I will probably upload more photos later.

You can also try an experimental map showing where some pictures were taken using GPS coordinates.

Errand day

After returning from Mexico, I had a lot of things to take care of. I got lots of mail in my office: A new miniSD card and a new SIM for my iPAQ, an American Express credit card, a and VISA debit card. I also had to print a paper I have to review and read a backlog of Hebrew e-mails I couldn't read on my iPAQ (I still have a backlog of blog posts to read).

After taking care of all that in Stanford and eating lunch, I headed for the Social Security office in Redwood City. After I few wrong turns I have finally arrived and had to wait in line for about an hour, so I read the paper I have brought with me. When my turn finally arrived, I submitted the form and was told I'd get a social security card that's valid for employment in six weeks, however the number will remain the same.

Two blocks from there is a California DMV office, where I applied for a driver's license and passed the written exam (with only one mistake). I was issued a temporary license on the spot and scheduled a driven test for two weeks later.

After finishing these errands, I returned to Stanford and joined another event of the Stanford Jewish community, held in the Sukkah. There I met another new post-doc (only a week here) that knew me from FishEye. I told him some useful information about getting a car and a driver's license and we exchanged e-mails.

The event ended at 9pm, and it was just time to go see House on FOX. It seems that the TV method of seeing shows has the major disadvantage of having commercial breaks interleaved with the show, however you can see shows only 3 hours late (we're on the west coast) and before they arrive on file sharing.

Today I came to the office early as I forgot the charger of my iPAQ and my battery has run out. I'm still waiting for the extended battery I ordered to arrive. No special plans for today, though I do plan to begin doing actual research.

P.S. check out the posts from Mexico, as I have added links and pictures.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Some facts about Meixco

Flag of MexicoMexico is a federal state, and its capital is located in a special federal district.

They are somewhat short on names: The country, the capital, and one of the states all share the same name: Mexico.

The Mexicans call their capital "Ciudad de Mexico" which translates to English as "Mexico City".

Many companies here are called something-mex: The phone company Telmex, the bank Banamex and the gas station Pemex.

They use the $ sign to designate Pesos (worth about 10 cents) and sometimes the prices still look reasonable even in US dollars.

They use the letter E to designate Parking.

Mexico's major international airport in Mexico City is inside the city limits.

And finally, when they say San Francisco here, they refer to the saint, not the city, unless you're flying there, like I am.