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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Simons and Berkeley

The Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing in Berkeley held two programs this fall, Fine-Grained Complexity and Algorithm Design and Economics and Computation both ending this week. It would have been a great fall for me to spend there as I have strong connections in both groups, but as a department chair and father to a high-school senior it would have been impossible to be away from Atlanta for an extended period of time.

But I did manage some short trips, my first to Simons. In September I went to attend the workshop on Connections Between Algorithm Design and Complexity Theory but had to leave early and to make up for it I visited for a few days last week as well. The Simons Institute has taken over Calvin Lab, a circular building on the UC Berkeley campus. Lecture rooms on the first floor, wide-open working spaces on the second floor where most people congregate and visitor offices on the third floor. It's not just the space but an incredible group of complexity theorists and EC types there this fall.

The year marks thirty years since I spent that not-so-happy year of grad school in Berkeley. The city of Berkeley has mellowed a bit. When I lived there before, many recent graduates didn't leave and instead remained in their cheap rent-controlled apartments. Now you see almost a bimodal distribution centered around college-aged students and late middle-aged residents. Berkeley housing is getting hard to find again, this time because of overflow from limited affordable housing in San Francisco. Still Berkeley seems like a city that has never grown up. I guess people like it that way.

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