Monday, October 28, 2013

What does the FOCS say?

The setting is the Doubletree Hotel, perched on the edge of the Berkeley Marina. It's evening, and participants in the Annual Symposium of Foundations of Computer Science (referred to fondly as FOCS) mill around, some shaking hands and chatting, others sitting on lobby easy chairs staring at laptop screens, starting to unwind after a long day of talks. The conference reception takes place in one of the hotel's ballrooms in which a bar has been set up in one corner and tables laden with hors d'oeuvres line the walls.  Conference attendees, name tags still prominent on jeans pockets and lapels, start to spill into the ballroom while the evening's entertainment, a band called the Positive Eigenvalues, sets up to play.

The Positive Eigenvalues, as the name suggests, is no ordinary band.  It is comprised of computer science faculty and graduate students*, two of whom are also FOCS conference goers.  One of these happens to be my husband, who decided joining these guys and gals would be a very 'sabbatical' thing to do. For the set tonight, he plays guitar, bongos, cowbell, egg shaker, and he's also lead singer for the band's encore song, Radiohead's "Creep."  Here's a video clip:

The band was entirely enjoyable to listen to, and some of the more adventurous CS folks were really getting into it and boogeying along by the end.  Aditya, Rohan, and their new friend Emilio, son of the drum player Michael Jordan and honorary Positive Eigenvalue,  bopped along as well.  The three female vocalists, grad students of Cal's CS Department, were outstanding.  Two highly entertaining geek songs with original lyrics (by keyboardist and faculty member Christos Papadimitriou) paid tribute to CS Theory and theoreticians.  The lyrics can be viewed  here.   So this year at FOCS, we had a Ring-ding-ding-ding-ding-e-ring-e-ding and Wa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pow of a good time (to borrow from Ylvis).

* Credits to the Positive Eigenvalues:
David Culler (Department Chair) - lead
Ben Recht (Assistant Professor)  - bass
Michael Jordan (Professor) - drums
Christos Papadimitriou (Professor) - keyboards
Suresh Venkatasubramanian (Visiting Professor) - guitar, percussion, vocals
Rebbeca Sorla Pottenger (Student) - vocals
Emmeline Kao (Student) - vocals
Aminy Ostfeld (Student) - vocals
Emilio Jordan (age 7) - percussion


  1. Amazing! Suresh is so talented! Looks like fun. :)

    (FYI, my sisters Beli and Aury taught Victoria that the fox says, "Ding ding ding ding ding dah ding ding ding".)

  2. I knew Suresh took music classes at Stanford. But this is brilliant! Mid-Life crisis?