Thursday, March 19, 2020

What to do while stuck at home Part I

First of all both the Turing award and Abel Prize announced yesterday.

As we start moving from the panic phase of the coronavirus to the boring phase, what kinds of things should you do or not do while stuck at home for the next two weeks to eighteen months.

First of all still do your job. Teach your online classes. Try to do some research. Meet with your colleagues/students/advisor virtually (best with Zoom or something similar). Submit to conferences. What else? Use the situation for your advantage.

Attend virtual conferences: Really attend. Pretend that you flew there and devote the entire day to going to virtual talks or chatting with other attendees in virtual hallways. I said it wouldn't happen this way last week so prove me wrong.

Create a Virtual Workshop: Because you can. Invite people to give online talks. Open it up for all to listen. Find ways to discuss together.

Connect: Make a virtual get-together with an old colleague or someone you've always wanted to meet. Researchers around the world will be holed up and happy to get some interactions.

Learn Something New: Read a textbook. Take an online course in CS or something completely different. There are plenty.

Help Others Learn: Start that book you've always wanted to write. Or just write a short survey article giving your view of a slice of the theory world. Create some videos or a podcast to explain stuff.

Pick up a hobby: Something outside computer science just to keep your sanity.

Watch some fun computer-related movies: Her, Sneakers, The Computer wore Tennis Shoes, 2001, The Imitation Game, Hidden Figures, Colossus: The Forbin Project, Ex Machina. Add your own favorites in the comments.

And on the other hand don't

Become an epidemiologist: As a computer scientist you are an expert in networks, graph theory and exponential growth so you can create models that show we are grossly under preparing and/or overreacting to the virus and want to tell the world how you are right and the so-called "experts" are wrong. Please don't.

Prove P ≠ NP: Trying to settle P v NP and failing is instructive. Trying to settle P v NP and thinking you succeeded is delusional.

Freak Out: We will get past this virus and the world will recover.

Bill will follow up with his own ideas in part II next week.


  1. I am doing most of the suggested activities, but I really miss the basketball matches with friends. Staying on CS, I really appreciate the new schedule of the TCS+ talks: every week a new one!

    Take care.

  2. The movie list is good. Sneakers: I keep wondering where the initial college scene was played at; was it supposed to represent any particular one? Surely it wasn't MIT but maybe something like Dartmouth. The cast was spectacular.

    We should add Hackers to that list I guess; a bit more colorful but at least they advertise RISC processors.
    And well, we all grew up watching 'War Games'; never really gets old.

  3. Hm. About 10 year ago I created a document entitles "plans" with list of interesting papers I would like to understand, interesting books I would like to read, interesting research directions I would like to think about and maybe write a paper on it. Since then, the document only grows - some activities I complete and delete, but I always add new items at a faster rate. Even if I would decide not to add new items from tomorrow, I think it would take me at least 5 years of full time work to complete this list. But I do add items, so it never ends. So, if I have a computer, internet, health at level sufficient to work, and also wife and children near me to spend evenings and weekends with them, I completely do not understand words "boring phase", and the only context of question "what to do" is what to do first out of so many interesting options. I though that every mathematician or computer scientist is in a similar situation...

  4. You didn't mention take care of your kiddos that are not at school/daycare.