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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Spring conference deadline season

We’ve had a busy period of conference deadlines in RSRG over the last few months…between ACM EC (Algorithmic Game Theory),  IEEE CDC (Control), and IFIP Performance (Sigmetrics’ European sister conference), it’s been a challenging period to try to get everything ready for submission.  But, the students have been working really hard, and we’re almost through it!

We have another week before the Performance deadline, so we’re still cramming to get the last few things written up.  But, as I’m working on those papers, it got me thinking about the fact that Performance really flies under the radar in the US.  For some reason, people don’t know it the way they know Sigmetrics, even though the two are closely tied.  So, I figured I’d give it a little advertisement here, since it’s a really nice venue for people that do work on the boundary of systems/networks and theory.  It’s also the place where I gave my first conference talk… in a beautiful marble-floored conference hall overlooking vineyards outside of Rome!

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Death spirals

One of the challenges of renewable integration that often goes undiscussed are the “death spirals” that are associated with adoption. We’ve been thinking a lot about these issues at Caltech over the past few years…

Two motivating stories

To highlight what we mean by a “death spiral”, let us first consider an example of  consumers in Southern California who use a lot of power from the power grid.  They clearly have an incentive to install rooftop solar since the price you pay for each incremental kilowatt-hour you consume increases with the total amount that you consume. That means that if you consume less you fall into a lower tier in which the price of the next kilowatt hour you consume is low; whereas if you consume a lot, the corresponding price you pay is high. This convex price structure is an incentive for high consumers to reduce consumption; it is also, however, an incentive for installing rooftop solar so that the consumer’s net consumption falls into a low tier.

But what are the consequences of the fact that incentives for adoption are much stronger for high consumers?

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Teaching about ad auctions

We’re now well into the last third of my Networks course, which focuses on the interaction of economics and networks.   We talk about a lot of different topics, but one that the students really seem to enjoy is ad auctions, which tends to take up the last three or four lectures of the class — and also serves as the context for our last competition / mini-project: clickmaniac.

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Competing epidemics: Crowning a pandemaniac

I’ve already blogged once about the first miniproject of my class this term, rankmaniac, and now after a one-week break, it’s time for the second miniproject of the term: pandemaniac.

This is the part of the course that I’ve been looking forward to the most since the beginning of the term.  We’ve been prepping the infrastructure for the assignment since the Fall and now, thanks to two impressive undergrads (Max Hirschhorn and Angela Gong), we have a nice system built that will allow the students in the class to seed competing cascades and then watch them play out step by step…but, I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Missed the trifecta

In an earlier post I wrote about an unusual submission trifecta I had this fall:  I submitted to each of NSDI, STOC, and Sigmetrics (a pure systems conference, a pure theory conference, and hybrid conference) within the span of a couple months.

As far as I know, no one has managed to complete this triple crown of acceptances in a given year (even when the list is broadened to STOC/FOCS, Sigcomm/NSDI, and Sigmetrics/Performance), though there is at least one person who has come quite close: Brighten Godfrey, who managed to have an NSDI and Sigmetrics paper within 12 months of each other, with a SODA paper in between…

Well, we now have heard back from all three and, unfortunately, we didn’t succeed with the triple crown.  We got an accept from NSDI and two accepts from Sigmetrics, but didn’t make it into STOC.  Drat, so close! So, the triple crown remains elusive for another year…

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Releasing Rankmaniac

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m teaching my “flagship” course this winter, a unique networks course that focuses on the structure and economics of networks using both a theoretical and an applied perspective.

One of the unique things about the course is that we have three fun/challenging mini-project competitions: rankmaniac, pandemaniac, and clickmaniac.  The first of these is rankmaniac, and it’s going out in class today…which means that the next week is one of my favorite parts of the class.

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