A toast to Alistair: Two Minutes on Two Great Professional Surprises

Alistair and the Simons Institure friendly and helpful staff 

Luca Trevisan invited me to give a 3-minute (vidotaped or live) toast for Alistair Sinclair to celebrate that Alistair much deservedly received the SIGACT service award and to mourn that he also just retired from his role of associate director of the Simons Institute. These toasts will be part of FOCS 2017 Saturday evening reception (October 14) which will be hosted by the SI and turn into a party for Alistair. It is great that leading scientists excel also in the all so important academic administration tasks. I can think in this context about Michael Rabin who was the rector (provost) of my university and many others.

But I thought it could be a good idea to mainly mention in my toast two of Alistair’s great and mind-boggling scientific contributions. Miraculously, I had a videotaped which was lying on the editing floor for three years.  It was part of the first ever  (and maybe the only ever) Simons Institute videotaped production. (The toast video was done by me using my smartphone and it took many takes to do.) So you can hear for one minute and a half quick stories about rapid mixing and approximate permanents and inspiring persistence and volume.

From the editing floor: Two Minutes on approximating permanents, rapidly mixing random walks in algorithms, and volumes

Click here for the toast video for Alistair!

This brief video was edited out from my videotaped lecture on quantum computers (see this earlier post). When we prepared the videos, I was quite excited by the fact that we do not  need to shoot the video in the right order. (I even use this fact to outline a major difference between classical computation and quantum computation.)  We first shot the pictorial + entertaining  ending  of Video II. Then we moved to shoot Video I and the plan was to start it with Alistair Sinclair introducing me. In the beginning of the unedited video, I say to Tselil in Hebrew that we do not need to bring Alistair up to the production room  since he can record his introduction later.  (At the end we decided not to have an introduction at all.) As seen from my smile, when I thanked Alistair for his yet-to-be-given introduction I felt as sophisticated as Niccolò Machiavelli.

And here are links to the papers mentioned: Approximating the Permanent by Jerrum and Sinclair, A polynomial-time approximation algorithm for the permanent of a matrix with non-negative entries by Jerrum, Sinclair and Vigoda (and here is the Journal version), and A random polynomial time algorithm for approximating the volume of convex bodies by Dyer, Frieze and Kannan.

Indeed these amazing algorithmic applications of  rapidly mixing random walks came as great surprises and are extremely important!

Lovely ending presentation, forgotten pictures of Avi and Oded, Jesus, the camel and Bob Simons, and Scott Aaronson’s 100,000$ promise.

Talking about my old Simon Institute lectures videos, let me first recommend to you the two minutes ending of the second video – lovely pictures and a wonderful song in the background. Can you identify the people there? (There are 49 altogether!)


The second video includes (toward the end, click here to jump to this part) a presentation of some pictures +funny things related (more or less) to the debate on quantum-computers. It contains (click to jump) a forgotten picture of Avi Wigderson and Oded Goldreich, and  a minute later you can see a picture with Terry Tao and hear my clumsy editing effort to change the audio from “propaganda” to “public relation.” This follows with a “kililish” (ululations) (Click to jump) for my daughter’s wedding,  and then my response  (click here to jump to it) to Scott Aaronson’s famous $100,000 challenge for an argument he will find convincing that quantum computers cannot work, and a discussion in the context of QC of Jesus’s statement regarding rich people, camels and needles.

Also left on the editing floor was a thorough comparison of Scott’s challenge to a “ketubah” where one guarantees to pay a certain amount of money when he divorces some idea he fell in love with in his youth, and a thorough discussion on if and how Jesus’s statement that it is harder for rich people to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle refers also to Jim Simons the founder of the Simons Institute at Berkeley.


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