Sunday, May 28, 2006

ESA PC Meeting: Day II

ETH Zurich was one of the first "foreign" universities I ever heard of. Pascal was the first "real" language I learnt, and I knew that the inventor of Pascal, Niklaus Wirth, was at ETH Zurich (he's retired now).

The ETH Computer Science building is very snazzy. From what I was told, it used to be inhabited by chemists, and there are still lab spaces with racks for beakers and spots for Bunsen burners (ooo, Bunsen burners, brings back memories of my dismal lab skills). There is at least one rather charming 'old-school' classroom that I saw, with wooden benches and fold-out desks. The look was somewhat marred by a very modern looking projector, and a computer screen on the front desk.

The department itself has a good geometry presence, with Emo Welzl , Bernd Gartner, and Michael Hoffman. It compares well (for CG) with places like Utrecht and the Free University of Berlin.

We managed to finish up earlier than scheduled today. The last few papers to be accepted always take the most time: it's like how the complexity of a system increases dramatically at a phase transition ! Overall, I think the main lesson I took back from looking at the papers is that experimental work takes a great deal of skill and effort. You have to tease out the interesting phenomena and design the right experiments to illustrate your points well. Word on the street is that far more good papers were submitted than there were slots available. It's an example of a trickle down effect that actually works !! As STOC, FOCS, and SODA have progressively become saturated, the quality of conferences like ESA is steadily increasing.

Sunday mostly everything is closed in Zurich. There is a nice hike one can do in the Uetliberg region (a hilly area that faces the lake). Was a good 1.5 hour hike, with distance markers not indicated by miles, but indicated in planetary fashion. The start point was the sun, the end point was pluto, and points in between represented the scaled distances of planets from the Sun. Geeky, but interesting.

It's time to go home...


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