MIT Theory Retreat 2013

This past Columbus Day weekend, over 30 of us gathered together at the Danny Lewin retreat — named in honor of former MIT graduate student Danny Lewin (about whom a recent book was written). This was the second year it was held; you can read about the inaugural retreat from last year here.

This was an opportunity for theory students new and old to get to know each other and spend 3 days together talking about their research and taking part in various fun activities (more details to follow).

The concept is simple:
1. We find a place (hopefully) within reasonable driving distance preferably in an area very close to awesome hiking paths.
2. Rent houses able to sleep dozens of people and and vans (one per dozen) to get us there.
3. Spend 3 days full of both academic and recreational activities. Academic activities (in the morning) include talks on a particular predetermined subject by predetermined speakers and short research introductions (i.e 5 minute talks about our research) by each one of us. Recreational ones include of course hiking and anything else people feel like doing in the free time (e.g ultimate frisbee, soccer, board games, making campfire etc).
4. Return to Boston full of new experiences and having met people, faster than we might have met otherwise. I definitely recommend that for all first year students!

This year the chosen place was at Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York close to Lake George, where we went for hiking the first time and gave us some awesome views as you will see.

We’ll just let the pictures do the rest of the talking (okay – we’ll let the captions do the talking too.

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend: I learned a ton, played my first game of mental chess (I lost), and escaped Cambridge for the great outdoors. And the leaves were beautiful.

Aloni Cohen and Themis Gouleakis

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The origins of NotsoGITCS

We’ve received a lot of positive feedback on our new MIT theory blog. But one thing has confused a number of readers: why is the blog titled “Not so Great Ideas in Theoretical Computer Science?” Is the purpose of the blog to discuss, say, crackpot attempts to prove P≠NP? Those can certainly contain some “not so great ideas.” Or is the purpose of the blog to modestly showcase the work of MIT students?

The answer is none of the above. The origins of the name lie deep in MIT theory history1. Our group holds weekly lunches in which students present short, interesting results in TCS. We call this lunch series “Great Ideas in TCS”, a name which was borrowed from Scott Aaronson’s popular introductory course (which also shares a similar name with Steve Rudich’s legendary CMU course). To complement these intellectual gatherings, we began organizing weekly social outings to local pubs, which we christened “Not so Great Ideas in TCS” to emphasize their informal nature2. The name stuck, and the tradition has become an institution within MIT theory.

In short, the title of the blog refers to a weekly event in the robust social lives3 of MIT graduate students, rather than the quality of the works discussed. We hope this clarifies things, and we’ll return to normal programming shortly. Next up will be a report on our theory retreat and more paper reviews — stay tuned!

Adam Bouland

  1. Namely, my first year at MIT.
  2. Granted, great ideas can be discussed in a pub too. Rumor has it that a number of STOC/FOCS papers have been conceptualized in the nearby Cambridge Brewing Company.
  3. Well, at least for mathematicians!