More spring cleaning notes
15 Apr 2022A few more notes to empty the stack.
Odds algorithm
The odds algorithm is a general method for optimalstopping problems, such as the secretary problem.
The setting is the following:
 Let $n$ be an integer, and $p_1,…,p_n$ be numbers in $(0,1]$.
 A sequence of bits $s=(s_k)_k$ is created by drawing each $s_k$ independently at random with $P(s_k=1)=p_k$.
 The player knows the $p_k$, sees the elements of the sequence $s$ one after the other, and should stop on the last 1.
An example of application is for auctions, where $s_k=1$ represents the fact that the kth bid is higher than all the bids that appeared before.
Let’s start with some notations. Let the odd of position $k$ be $r_k=\frac{p_k}{1p_k}$. For every $t\in [1,n]$, let $R_t=r_n + r_{n1}+…+r_{t}$. Consider the first $t$ such that $ R_t > 1$, and call it $t^{\ast}$. (If the sum does not reach $1$, set $t^\ast=1$.)
The odds algorithm is: stop as soon as you see a 1 at a position of index $t^\ast$ or larger.
This algorithm happens to be optimal!
Order of the authors’ names
Recently, there has been efforts in the TCS community to reduce the bias originating from the way we cite the authors of papers. Basically, the current system has a positive bias towards people whose names appear early in the alphabet. Q&A:
Is it really a thing? I haven’t seen any statistics about TCS or even maths, but I have seen some stats in economics (where they also use alphabetical order), and it is clear that there is a nonnegligible bias (check this blog post for more about this). The studies look serious, in particular controlling the other possible factors (e.g. discrimination based on ethnicity, etc.).
Where does it come from? The most plausible explanation is that the bias comes from the habit of citing papers by the name of the first author (either informally in discussions, or formally with “et al.”). Knowing a name better than another introduces a bias (e.g. when thinking about speakers for invited talks, or just reviewing papers). At first, it seems like a weak effect, but given the amount of money spent by companies on advertising, for exactly this purpose, we probably underestimate it.
What are possible fixes? Recent call for papers of TCS conferences (e.g. STOC 2022) have taken into account this phenomenon in several ways. One way is to ask authors to avoid the “et al.” formulation. Another is to allow for randomized name ordering. In order to avoid confusion between randomized and ranked orderings, the notation ⓡ has been allowed (Authorrandom1 ⓡ Authorrandom2 ⓡ etc.). This should appear in both the paper and the future citations of the paper. It is arguably uglier than commas, but it seems worth it.
Links

David Eppstein has a list of 21 proofs of Euler formula. Hopefully, I’ll find some time to write about my favorite proofs on this blog.

An excellent video by Ryan O’Donnell about the switching lemma (both fun and very enlightening).

The bulletin of EATCS has some new columns: “Know the people behind the papers”, that consists in an interview of a wellknown researcher (Keren CensorHillel in the current issue, and Kurt Melhorn for the previous one), and “The Theory Blogs Column” (managed by Luca Trevisan) about TCS blogs (the first one is Computational complexity by Lance Fortnow).

If you work with graphs in SageMath, then you should take a look at Phitigra, a graph editor created by JeanFlorent Raymond.

At some point, I have been looking for a linuxcompatible presentation viewer that would show some additional information on the presenter laptop (next slide, remaining time, etc.). It seems that pdfpc is an option, but I haven’t tried it yet.