Wednesday, October 24, 2007

FOCS VI- Local Arrangements AND the future of FOCS!

(Another Guest post from Nicole!)

The business meeting was fun thanks to Mihai!

Local arrangements: First, let me say how wonderful the local arrangements were this year, a sentiment I've heard from many others here. Thanks so much for making this FOCS happen.

Claire gave a very detailed account of the local arrangements. The general message seemed to be that things are expensive. Expenditures this year reached $100K. The usual culprits were at fault -- food ($265 per person, total of $66,000), paper proceedings ($32 per person, total of $11,700), PC meeting/registration fees ($12,000), room/equipment rental ($4,200). Everything sunk in when it was announced that we're looking at a $525 registration fee for STOC 2008 in Victoria, admittedly thanks in part to the falling dollar.

The usual debates ensued -- paper vs CD vs online proceedings, catered lunch vs on-your-own, alternate conference venues. Let me capitalize on my journalistic duties to further my personal opinion on these matters: online proceedings (and ideally someday online PC meetings) are much more environmentally friendly. For me, this is enough. But, besides environmental and monetary costs, online proceedings are also easier to access after the meeting and can include media beyond print, e.g. slide presentations, videos of talks, etc. (see, for example, the excellent wiki of FOCS 06 built by Amin Saberi). People who really want paper proceedings can go to Kinko's with a printout of all the papers and pay $50 to bind them.

But honestly, I'm getting tired of this annual debate. Let's just do it my way. ;)


  1. Nicole, you're a wonderful politician - constantly complimenting everybody. We need people like you to change the world and take humanity forward!

  2. Online proceedings are ok if you are warned in advance and given access to them beforehand. One can download the proceedings and read them in a laptop. As well those who are paper inclined can print them ahead of time.

    Lastly a few printed spiral bound paper copies should be made available for perusal in site and/or purchase.

  3. if catered food is so expensive - half the cost - why not have it optional during registration? attendees with less money to blow can order sandwiches and have lunch in the next room together.

    discreet food tags can be (are already being?) used.

  4. Nicole, you are doing a great job of covering FOCS considering that this is the first such coverage. A big Thanks from me!

    I hope this is going to be an annual activity.

    You still have one more day to cover, so I think I can still put my feedback in for the coverage to get benefit this year itself.

    I think besides the business meeting, slides of which should anyway be put online at SIGACT website, I do not think many people who did not attend FOCS are learning about it. Of course you are doing a great job by bringing in the debate from offline to online. I think proceeding and budget was a small part of the business meeting. Sanjeev (Arora) and other presented the funding situation. Without funding there is no research, no conference, and hence no debate about online vs offline proceedings.

    I assume, we could expect more posts about these other important activities in the business meeting. I like to take this opportunity to publicize an very important website mentioned by Sanjeev during the business meeting.

    I have followed many conferences esp. the business ones online. I always got at least half the benefit of being their physically. I beleive, Nicole, what you have started is great. I think eventually we will see higher registration fee due to this:) Because many people would be able to get half the benefit of physical attendance online itself.

    One more thing we missed about the business meeting. Paul Beam said he is working on creating a website within SIGACT so that the authors can volunteer their papers to create an online proceeding. This would be great. I have been talking with many folks about this for years and the thing always came down to legal issues. Paul's idea would circumvent these legal issues. Also, online proceedings could have much higher functionality. When I click a paper link, besides the paper I should also get other content related to paper, such as 1. Presentation Slides, 2. Forward refrences (paper only have past references), 3.Demos is there is any, 4. Forums and comments. Every thing under authors control.

    To have the uniformity, SIGACT could distribute the template for papers. Authors could take the template and put the papers and related content on their website. This will not only give control to authors to remove the content or part of it whenever they want but it also reduces the cost for SIGACT. It will also reduce any residual legal issues. Of course an open forum will further the agenda "COLLABORATION". When you collaborate 1+1 become 11. An open forum does enable collaboration.

  5. Just to set the record straight, this is not the first FOCS coverage in this blog: I did it last year (see October 22, 23, and 24 2006 blogs). I am not sure, but I believe Lance did report from earlier FOCSes.

    Some other comments:

    1. I believe Kamal's suggestions are worth pursuing. My only disagreement is that authors should not have control of eventual comments, if they are to be incorporated in the project.

    Of course, individual authors always had the opportunity to put their papers, slides, and forward pointers online at their websites. If this were done by most authors, setting up pointers to them would be a minor task.

    2. Catered food is very expensive. However, there is a very strong sentiment on the part of many senior people in the community that the communal meals are a very valuable way to have graduate students and junior researchers interact with active researchers in an informal context. This is especially true for senior researchers: many students are quite shy about walking over to someone famous.

    3. The only way to get a really cheap conference is to hold it at a university (or major research lab) campus, use university resources (classrooms, AV equipment, etc.) and have much of the food (at least coffee breaks, breakfast) bought and set up by the local arrangers. Even catered lunches would be cheap, if one had a choice of caterers, which one does not have in a hotel. Similarly, dorm accommodations would be much cheaper than a hotel.

    Unfortunately, university facilities are not available during typical FOCS times, and the other suggestions require a LOT of time and effort on the part of the organizers. Claire, Philip and Anna did a wonderful job of doing it as far as possible, given the constraint of using a hotel: the tutorial day was exactly along the lines above, and was wonderful, and incredibly inexpensive. The hotel rates were exceptionally low, especially given the quality of the hotel. Again, it takes a lot of time and skill to get such bargains. They also found clever and enterprising ways to lower audio-visual fees. It was a superb organizational effort, and I am sure, one that took a lot of time. We should be very thankful--I certainly am!

  6. Btw, binding costs less than 10 bucks at staples.

  7. Janos: "2. Catered food is very expensive. However, there is a very strong sentiment on the part of many senior people in the community that the communal meals are a very valuable way to have graduate students and junior researchers interact with active researchers in an informal context. This is especially true for senior researchers: many students are quite shy about walking over to someone famous."

    However, it is these junior researchers who can't afford it. The food is the major cost of the conference, and with registration costs going over $500...

  8. I kind of like having the paper bound proceedings during the conference, but wouldn't mind if I had been given access to a digital version before the conference (say 2-3 weeks before) so I could print out whatever papers I might want to look at during the conference, or perhaps even print and bind the whole thing. Using Kinkos or my university printing service might even be cheaper than the cost for proceedings.

    I think communal lunches are a good thing. Perhaps the way to handle attendants with tight budgets is to be more liberal with discounts and not give them just for students. (Of course that might cause a slight increase in fees for the rest of the people, but this could be offset by saving the roughly $30 for proceedings for 300 attendees)

    Boaz Barak