Rome is the host city for this year's FOCS conference. While everyone enjoys visiting one of the world's great capitals, attendance at the sessions can occasionally suffer, and the sessions this year do seem noticeably smaller. Another explanation could be the the high cost of traveling to and staying in Rome. On the plus side, I get to see many European theorists of whom I had known in name only.
For those who did make the trek to the southern tip of the Villa Borghese, the first day featured the presentation of the two results which won best paper: Subhash Khot's Hardness for Approximating the Shortest Vector in Lattices and Applebaum, Ishai, and Kushilevitz's Cryptography in NC0. Subhash was an author of two other impressive hardness results in the same session: Ruling Out PTAS for Graph Min-Bisection, Densest Subgraph and Bipartite Clique (the title is self-explanatory) and Optimal Inapproximability Results for Max-Cut and Other 2-variable CSPs? (with Kindler, Mossel, and O'Donnell) which gives evidence that the Max-Cut approximation algorithm of Goemans-Williamson is the best possible.
The cryptography session featured the above Cryptography in NC0 paper which Lance mentioned in an earlier post as well as an intriguing result due to Salil Vadhan, An Unconditional Study of Computational Zero Knowledge showing how to establish important properties of computational zero knowledge proofs without assuming the existence of a one-way function.
The controversial topic of what to do with the special issue of FOCS continued at last night's business meeting. It appears as though Elsevier will lose another opportunity to publish a special issue of STOC/FOCS, as a vote last night indicated a strong desire to give SICOMP the responsibility instead (a similar thing occurred at STOC this year).