Misc: September 2008 Archives


September 13, 2008

OK, so I know this is trivial, but it still really annoys me.

NPR has this news quiz called Wait, wait... don't tell me. They have three comedians answer questions about the week's events. The last "event" is a "lightning fill in the blank" round where they have to answer as many questions as they can in 30 seconds (or whatever). [BTW, Win Ben Stein's Money was much better on this front, because the questions were the same for the contestant and for Stein]. Anyway, before the LFOTB round, the contestants are typically within two or three points, and each question in the round is worth 2 points. The contestants participate in order of increasing score, so what happens is that the first contestant (the one with the lowest score) always ends up with the most points as soon as he's gone. Carl Kasell then announces "Bob got 5 correct answers, for a total of 13 points and he has now taken the lead," at which point I can barely stop myself from screaming at the radio "No, no!" It's not sensible to talk about someone "taking the lead" when the other contestants haven't even gone yet and when if they get any reasonable number of questions right, they themselves will be in the lead.


September 11, 2008

For those who are thinking of submitting to ISOC NDSS, the PC has decided to extend the conference deadline to Fri Sep 12, though you have to submit your abstract and title by midnight tomorrow. This has been announced in some fora already and will appear on the site tomorrow.

Because so much CS publication is done at conferences, the work cycle tends to be driven by the submission deadline. These deadlines tend to be of varying hardness—sometimes people ask for and are granted extensions, but not uncommonly the program committee grants general extensions (a week is common here). If you're preparing a paper for such a conference, learning that the deadline has been extended seems like a nice bonus, if a little anticlimactic; people tend to work up to the deadline and so suddenly getting another week cuts down on the rush job aspect of things. On the other hand, since work tends to expand to fill the time available, it's a bit of a mixed blessing.

But of course these benefits only accrue to the submitters if the deadline extension is unexpected. If you know that there will be an extension (and NDSS is famous/notorious for having the deadline extended every year), then you just factor the later deadline into your planning and it's as if the extended deadline were just the real deadline (cf. rational expectations theory) and the PC might as well have just set that deadline in the first place. [Note that one could argue that the PC learns new information as the deadline approaches and people ask for extensions so they're correcting, but (1) since people plan to finish at the deadline it's not clear that having a later deadline would change anything and (2) even if this were true, once the conference has had a couple years to settle in, you'd expect the deadline to get calibrated pretty accurately.]

Paradoxically, then, if the PC thinks that having people shoot for time X but then actually have till time Y improves papers (or perhaps just author experience), then they need to preserve uncertainty about whether a deadline will be extended by sometimes not extending it. How often you have to do so is a more complicated calculation, of course, but given that your typical conference happens only every year and people tend to forget events more than a few years in the past, I suspect that you can't extend the deadline more than 75% of conferences or so.

Hovav Shacham observed to me that you could both provide the requisite uncertainty and try to establish whether extensions improve paper quality by only giving extensions to some random fraction of papers each year [tech note: you would need to force people to commit to their name or paper submission before telling them whether they got the extensions, since otherwise they might just poll until they got an extension] and then see whether those papers had a higher acceptance rate. In my experience, though, people tend to feel that giving some people unequal treatment—even when that treatment is randomly distributed—is somehow unfair.