Blog Archive: 2010

Overflow overflow?

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Ten days ago,  a theoretical computer science community Q&A site went beta and seems to be generating a fair amount of activity. I’m a big fan of MathOverflow, and am delighted to see a similar site springing up for a different field.

Thirty-nine days ago,  a new mathematics site went beta, which initially puzzled me since the mathematics community already has the highly successful MathOverflow site. The difference appears to be that MathOverflow is specifically for research mathematics whereas the new site aims to be broader, allowing more elementary questions.

Overall, I think a proliferation of such sites is great, but it is also confusing. It isn’t always clear when a question is research level or not. There are questions tagged algebra or topology on the CS theory site that are pure mathematics questions. There’s a question tagged  graph theory that had been posted previously to MathOverflow. I am delighted to see that both cs.cr.crypto-security and quantum computing already are populated with a few questions, but similar questions in these areas received good answers on MathOverflow. It would be a shame if the proliferation of sites lead to less interaction between fields rather than more. I’ll be curious to see how the usage patterns play out over time.

When to stop searching?

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Frequently, particularly when searching for work related to possibly novel research ideas I or others at FXPAL have had, it is not easy to determine when to stop searching. This dilemma comes up any time anyone is searching for something we are not sure exists.  After doing N searches, and finding nothing, how certain can we be that it isn’t there?

An unusual example of an existence search came up as I was doing background research for my review of N. David Mermin’s book Quantum Computer Science that was recently published in ACM SIGACT News. As part of the review, I wanted to give a sense for the extent that Mermin’s thoughts and writings have influenced scholarly and popular thought on quantum mechanics. I thought I remembered that he was the originator of the “Shut up and calculate” interpretation of quantum mechanics, but I wanted to fact check before putting it in my review. Would this search be a hard or easy one?
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