What’s hot at EC and Sigmetrics this year?

It took a little while after the acceptances went out, but now the lists of accepted papers are up for both Sigmetrics and EC for this year’s conferences. Our group was lucky enough to get 3 Sigmetrics papers and 4 EC papers in this year, so Caltech will be strongly represented at both places once again!

From the looks of it, both conferences will be quite interesting, and I’m definitely looking forward to attending them in June… Happily, they are taking place during back-to-back weeks, rather than during the same week like last year.  (Many of us bounced back and forth between them last year, which was only possible because Sigmetrics was in Pittsburgh and EC was in Philly.)

One thing I’ve talked about already in an earlier post is the growing overlap between Sigmetrics and EC among young researchers, e.g., nearly all of the recent Sigmetrics Rising Star award recipients have some ties to the EC community through the Network Economics field.  Happily, this year, the accepted paper lists highlight that the connection, though still weak, is growing.

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“How clean is your cloud” two years later

Two years ago, Greenpeace put out a report titled “How clean is your cloud,” taking many of the IT giants to task for their lack of  commitment to sustainability in their data centers.  Now, a few years later, Greenpeace is still at it and has been pushing hard with a mixture of yearly public praise/shaming (or maybe they’d prefer the term “public education”) about the commitment and progress companies are making toward a sustainable cloud.

When reading the most recent report “Clicking clean,” it is really quite amazing how far the industry has come.  While there is still room for improvement, even the companies Greenpeace critiques are light-years ahead of where the industry was five years ago.    Apple, which was the black sheep of the initial report, has now committed to 100% renewable energy for its cloud, while Amazon, which was ahead of the curve in the initial report, is really hit hard.

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RSRG does a triathlon

Our group has a history of doing athletic events during our outings over the years — hikes and even half-marathons.  But, this past weekend, we tried something a little more involved — a triathlon!  Besides me, only one person in the group had done a triathlon before (most hadn’t even done open water swimming before), but amazingly, we got six folks to do the race, and then three to put together a relay team to boot. Then, the rest of the group came along to cheer the triathletes along and have a nice picnic afterwards.  Quite a fun group event!

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Can 19th-century technology solve the energy storage dilemma?

Energy storage is basically a holy grail for the power system community these days.  If we had cost-effective, large-scale energy storage, many of the challenges that go along with incorporating renewable energy into the grid would disappear.  But, we don’t, and the basic feeling is that we need some sort of new idea to get there…

My bet is that if you ask a grade-schooler about how best to store energy, one of the first ideas they’d suggest is to use roll a heavy rock up a hill when you have excess energy and then, when you want energy later, extract it as the rock rolls down the hill…

Over the last few years I’ve been suggesting to folks that this idea isn’t as crazy as it sounds, and it seems that there were others of similar minds! Dave Rutledge recently pointed me to a new energy storage startup called ARES that does essentially that.

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A report from NSDI

Last week, I attended NSDI for the first time in quite a few years… I only managed to be at the conference for a day-and-a-half, but there was a lot of interesting stuff going on even in just that short time.

For me, it’s always stimulating to attend pure systems conferences like NSDI, given the contrast in research style with my own.  For example, there were more than a few papers where somewhere in the implementation, a quite challenging resource allocation problem came up, and the authors just applied a simple heuristic and moved past it without a second thought.  For me, I’d be distracted for months trying to figure out optimality guarantees, etc.  That’s, of course, a lot of fun to do and sometimes pays off, but it’s always good to see a reminder that often simple heuristics are good enough…

If you only look at four papers, which should they be?

Well, of course, you should start with the best paper award winner:

The topic of this paper highlights that, despite the fact that NSDI is a true systems conference, there were a definitely a few papers that took a theoretical/rigorous approach to design.  (Of course our paper did, but there were others too!)

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Leslie Lamport: The Ideal RSRG Scientist

Remember that this blog is coming from the Rigorous Systems Research Group (RSRG, aka “resurge”) at Caltech.  The group has a fairly unique perspective on systems research, so you might wonder:

If you were to pick the RSRG “ideal person,” whom would you pick?

My ideal is Leslie Lamport, the Turing Award winner this year. Here’s why.

Leslie is among the most logically-rigorous computer scientists in the history of computer science, and he has done as much for developing the discipline of scientific, theory-based, rigorous computer systems implementation as any person. The combination of logical rigor and practical systems makes Leslie stand head-and-shoulders above everybody as the RSRG ideal.

Everything we do at RSRG deals with concurrency: communication networks, power systems, economics and information technology, cloud computing, distributed systems, control systems, and real-time analytic systems. The theoretical foundations of concurrent systems have two parts: (1) a logic that enables systems to be designed and analyzed rigorously, and (2) a collection of fundamental algorithms that lie at the heart of almost all concurrent systems. Several great computer scientists have built the foundations for the first part, and several have developed the foundations for the second. But only two or three in the history of computer science have done both, and Leslie is one of them.

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