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Showing posts from April, 2009

Scaling up program committees

As a follow-up to my earlier post on scaling up the number of papers that conferences accept, I wanted to comment on the reviewing load imposed on program committees. Ken Birman and Fred Shneider have a thought-provoking article on this topic in May's issue of CACM (thanks to Yuiry Brun for the pointer). They touch on many points, but one issue they do not explicitly consider is the possibility of increasing the size of the program committee itself to reduce the workload.

The figure below shows the size of the program committee and the number of submissions for the last few years of SOSP and OSDI (OSDI 2002 is left out since I could not find data on the number of submissions). Note that I am not counting program chairs in the PC size, since presumably they do not shoulder the same burden for paper reviews (indeed, they have a much harder job).

I also estimate the number of reviews by each PC member, assuming that -- on average -- every paper gets four reviews. This is a guess and it…

Scaling up conferences

Many prestigious conferences in systems and networking -- such as SOSP, SenSys, and SIGCOMM -- constrain themselves to a single track over two and a half days. This limits the number of papers that can be presented at the conference to around 25-30 at most, assuming 30-minute talk slots.

The problem is that the field has been growing, but the publication venues have not. This means it is becoming increasingly competitive to get a paper accepted to one of these venues. You can check out the stats for yourself here. Although the stats are not yet on that page, SIGCOMM 2009 accepted only 10% of submitted papers. Conference publications in top venues are now a highly prized commodity, and one that is becoming increasingly valued over time. Unfortunately this leads to spiraling inflation, in the sense that the harder it is to get a paper accepted, the more it is seen as a superhuman achievement ("Wow! You got a paper into SIGCOMM!"), causing more people to submit more papers to th…

Abolish universities? Not so fast

The NY Times is carrying an editorial today from Mark C. Taylor, the chair of the Religion department at Columbia, saying that we need to rethink the structure of graduate education, and universities as a whole, to make them more relevant in today's world. The article is generally thought-provoking, but dead wrong when it comes to science and engineering. Unfortunately, the article does not qualify its statements as being relevant only to the humanities and social sciences, which is too bad considering that some readers might extend this flawed line of thinking to apply to other fields.

I'm surprised the author would be so careless to say things like:
"Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market..."and
"Young people enroll in graduate programs ... all because of the illusory promise of faculty appointments." [Emphasis mine.]What planet is this guy from? What he really means is that in the areas of "religi…

NSDI 2009, Day Three

Today is the last day of NSDI 2009 here in Boston. The conference was great this year, and the community is clearly going strong. My only regret is that, the conference being in Boston, there was no excuse for me to go out cavorting with my colleagues until the wee hours. (Not that this stopped my grad students...)

My favorite talks from today:
Softspeak: Making VoIP Play Well in Existing 802.11 Deployments
Patrick Verkaik, Yuvraj Agarwal, Rajesh Gupta, and Alex C. Snoeren, University of California, San DiegoThis paper is about improving the performance of VoIP flows in wireless networks, which can be very negatively impacted by bulk TCP and UDP traffic. I liked how this work looks at something other than bulk throughput as the only performance metric for a wireless network: this paper focuses on the MOS scores for the VoIP calls. The basic idea is to allow the VoIP stations to use a shorter contention window and aggregate downlink traffic across multiple VoIP stations. It's a clev…

NSDI 2009, Day Two

NSDI marches on. A couple of my favorite talks from today:
Tolerating Latency in Replicated State Machines Through Client Speculation
Benjamin Wester, University of Michigan; James Cowling, MIT CSAIL; Edmund B. Nightingale, Microsoft Research; Peter M. Chen and Jason Flinn, University of Michigan; Barbara Liskov, MIT CSAILIn this paper, the authors propose to permit clients to speculate on the result of a replicated operation assuming the response from the first server is correct. Although this seems like an obvious idea, it's well executed here. Of course, it requires that clients also implement checkpoint and rollback in case the speculation was incorrect. To avoid side-effecting operations from triggering before the true result of the speculation is known, dependent requests can carry a predicate tied to the result of a previous speculation; this effectively forces a "collapse of the wave function" (as I think of it), forcing the servers to finalize the agreement.

NSDI 2009, Day One

NSDI is happening this week here in Boston. This years' conference has 32 papers (selected out of about 160 submissions) and there are more than 240 attendees, which is an NSDI record. The topics this year are pretty diverse, including content distribution (which seems to be a euphemism for "P2P"), software-defined radios, botnets, and of course the mandatory session on BFT.

A couple of highlights from my favorite talks today.

TrInc: Small Trusted Hardware for Large Distributed Systems
Dave Levin, University of Maryland; John R. Douceur, Jacob R. Lorch, and Thomas Moscibroda, Microsoft Research

This paper proposes to add a small trusted hardware component (which they implement as a smart card), incorporating a counter and a key, providing provable attestation for state updates performed by a node participating in a distributed system. This can be used to prevent a malicious or selfish node from "equivocating" by sending different messages to different peers. For e…

Brown project spamming MediaWiki sites

A few weeks ago I noticed some very strange looking pages showing up on the TinyOS Docs Wiki which I maintain. These pages contained what appeared to be ASCII-encoded binary data of some kind, although the format was not anything I recognized. Cursory searches for what might be causing this turned up nothing, so I ended up spending a couple of hours locking down the site to prevent malicious edits.

Turns out this was (what appears to be) a student project from Brown called Graffiti which is intended to provide a kind of encrypted, distributed filesystem (I gather, since the paper isn't available) on top of "public" MediaWiki sites. (I should point out that the bogus pages on my site did not have the explanatory message at the top saying that they were related to this project - I guess this was only added in a later version of their code.)

The authors seem to be reticent about the trouble they have caused, but a comment that previously appeared on the project page suggests …

Rumors of the death of newspapers have been greatly exaggerated

A lot has been said lately about the decline and fall of the newspaper industry. In the last week I've seen at least two TV interviews with newspaper publishers moaning that blogs (ahem) can't provide the same quality of reporting as they can. Yet, they give newspapers away for free, online, which seems to me to be a race to the bottom. If everything is free, how are readers supposed to value the reporting provided by newspapers over what they can get from the Huffington Post or (God forbid) Digg?

Look, if newspapers want to stay in business, they have to start charging money for online access. It's as simple as that. The trick is balancing revenue from subscriptions with revenue for online ads driven by "free" access. The NY Times ran an experiment a couple of years ago where they started charging for "prime" content such as the editorial pages. In the end they pulled the plug since they were losing hits. But the question is not how many hits - it's…

Don't believe the netbook hype

The NY Times is running an article today on the rise of netbooks, which are roughly defined as cheap laptops using low-power chips, sometimes without a hard drive. Of course, the terminology is fuzzy and confusing.
The article claims that netbooks are poised to eat into the conventional laptop and PC market in a big way, mainly because they're cheaper. I don't buy it.

The potential game-changer for netbooks is that companies traditionally associated with the cell phone market are bringing out new processors and other components that bring the cost and power consumption down. The low-cost and low-power ARM chips don't run Windows, so some netbooks run a stripped down version of Linux (though where did the NY Times get the idea that Linux costs $3 versus $25 for Windows XP?). And many current netbooks are too puny to run "real" applications -- by which I mean things like PowerPoint, games, or playing a DVD.

Now, I'm a big Linux advocate, but I don't buy the id…