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Boston Computation Club

Boston Computation Club

By Max von Hippel
The Boston Computation Club is a small seminar group focused on mathematical computer science, and computational mathematics. Its name is plagiarized from the London Computation Club. Boston Computation Club meetings occur roughly every other week, on weekends, around 5pm EDT (modulo speaker availability). The usual format is a 20m presentation followed by 40m of discussion. Some, but not all, meetings are posted on YouTube and in podcast form.
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03/12/22: Live Coding: Making a Wordle Scraper and Solver with Jacob Denbeaux

Boston Computation Club

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06/19/22: Assessing Recycling, Displacement, and Environmental Impacts using an Economics-Informed Material System Model, with John Ryter
John Ryter is my lead partner in Cambridge MA, a gnarly climber, and also a PhD student in materials science at MIT (aka MassTech) where he studies recycling using a unique combination of economic theory and environmental modeling.  John's work has entertained me during countless climbing sessions and now it can equally enthrall you, via the magic of the Internet.  We were very happy to have John present to the group, particularly since the audience contained a chemist, a physicist, and a geo-physicist, in addition to the standard array of derelict computer scientists (myself included).  To read more about John's work, refer here.  You can also watch this talk on YouTube, here.
51:43
June 19, 2022
05/20/22: Hybrid Systems: Not Just For Cars Anymore! With Kimberly Ayers
Kimberly Ayers is an assistant professor of mathematics at Cal State San Marcos, where she studies the mathematics of hybrid systems.  Kimberly is a genuine theorist (in contrast to us computer science neanderthals, haha) and this talk touched on some of the aspects of hybrid systems that make them theoretically interesting (e.g.,  how the topology imposed on a skew flow can apparently be quite strange).  Since I've only previously seen hybrid systems work in CS, where it's always motivated by practical justifications like "Boeing", this was refreshing and cool!  Anyway we had a really nice time with a great conversation section, and if you missed it, I'm sure you'll thoroughly enjoy the recording.  You can read more about Kimberly HERE.
57:02
May 20, 2022
05/13/22: The Generalized Star Height Problem with Jean-Eric Pin
Roughly four years ago, when I took second semester Abstract Algebra at the University of Arizona, my professor (Jay Taylor) generously offered to meet with me every week outside class to discuss algebraic topics in computer science.  We chose Dr. Pin's book, Varieties of Formal Languages.  Due to my own mathematical immaturity we worked through the material slowly, and didn't finish the text before I graduated.  Nevertheless, working through this material helped inspire me to pursue a PhD in formal methods - an endeavor I'm solidly halfway through at the time of writing.  All this is to say, Jean-Eric Pin is partially to blame for the fact that I am currently a sleepless PhD student at Northeastern University.   Today Jean-Eric Pin joined us to discuss The Generalized Star Height Problem, an open problem in formal language theory which he and his colleagues have attempted to attack from all angles: algebraically, logically, topologically, etc.  It's one of those deeply enticing problems in math that's reasonably easy to explain yet apparently quite challenging to solve.  In this 2-hour talk, Jean-Eric Pin explains the problem starting with the most basic definitions, and then discusses some of the related results from those who wish to solve it.  It's a fascinating and very accessible talk, and we really hope you enjoy! You can view a video version of the talk HERE.
01:52:20
May 13, 2022
05/07/22: Math Café #3: Prep for Dr. Pin's Talk with Max von Hippel
Plagiarizing Wikipedia: "Jean-Éric Pin is a French mathematician and theoretical computer scientist known for his contributions to the algebraic automata theory and semigroup theory."  He will also be our featured guest in a week, presenting The Generalized Star Height Problem.  In advance of his talk, he requested that the audience familiarize themselves with some basic mathematical definitions, such as "monoid" and "completion of a metric space".  To which end, I prepared a presentation, went through some light-weight peer review with random friends from the PL group at Northeastern, and then delivered this talk.  This is a fun little review on various useful topics in math, and also, a good refresher if you intend to attend Dr. Pin's talk.  I hope you enjoy!
54:29
May 07, 2022
04/15/22: When Memory Guards are Crooked and Become Speculating Snitches with Andrea Mambretti
Andrea Mambretti is a system security researcher at IBM Research Europe, Zurich Laboratory.  He received his Ph.D. from Northeastern University, in the SecLab under the supervision of Engin Kirda.  Since 2011, he's participated in several CTF competitions (Ictf, Ructf, Defcon and others) with both the TowerOfHanoi and Shellphish teams.  (Audience members will surely fall into two partitions: those who are more impressed by Andrea's PhD, and those who are more impressed by his membership in Shellphish 😉).  Today, Andrea joined us to discuss some of his security research into ROP attacks, specifically attacks that exploit timing-based side-channels caused by speculative execution.  This research builds on the academic legacy of attacks like Spectre, but formalizes the relevant threat models and explores the full space of relevant attack varieties.  The talk was fun, technical, and exciting.  We concluded with a question-and-answer/discussion section, mostly centered on (a) attack realizability against differing architectures, and (b) mitigations/defenses.  This was a great talk, and we hope you enjoy it post-hoc! ArXiV Andrea's homepage Andrea's twitter Video version of this talk
55:54
April 15, 2022
03/20/22: An Open Conversation on Web3 with the SpiceDAO
The SpiceDAO is a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) which recently purchased a copy of the "Dune Bible", namely, the elusive and rare storyboard script for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s DUNE film.  As big Dune fans ourselves, and also as nerds interested in both the failures and opportunities of Web3, we were enormously excited to meet with a representative of SpiceDAO and discuss all things decentralized.  The discussion was lively, touching on sybil attacks, democracy, in-real-world legal and financial instruments, blockchain permanence, forking, and other issues!  We really enjoyed this open conversation and look forward to more events like it in the future. SpiceDAO website SpiceDAO twitter An article in The Verge about SpiceDAO Video version of this recording
01:01:59
March 20, 2022
03/12/22: Live Coding: Making a Wordle Scraper and Solver with Jacob Denbeaux
Jacob is a mathematician, computer scientist, and notably, co-organizer of the Boston Computation Club.  Today he joined us to give an interactive lesson on web-scraping, with Worlde-solving as a motivating case study.  This was a fun exercise and one we will almost certainly follow up on in the future.  We worked through parsing the ... DOM?  Is that the right word?  IDK.  And then entering text.  And then actually utilizing the feedback offered by the game to start interactively solving the puzzle.  We concluded with a brief conversation about the complexity of handling the clues in the context of words that have more than one of a given letter. CODE VIDEO
01:03:53
March 12, 2022
03/05/22: Seize the Means of Computation: the Big Tech Disassembly Manual with Cory Doctorow
Cory Doctorow (craphound.com) is a science fiction author, activist and journalist.  In my circles, he's probably best known for his work with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Boing Boing, but he's also a renowned science fiction author in his own right, an MIT Media Lab Research Affiliate, a Visiting Professor of Computer Science at Open University, a Visiting Professor of Practice at the University of North Carolina’s School of Library and Information Science, and co-founder of the UK Open Rights Group.  In short: Cory is precisely the kind of polymath we love to engage with at the Boston Computation Club!  Today, Cory joined us to discuss Big Tech - what's wrong with it and how to fix (read: DISMANTLE) it.  The talk was engaging, exciting, elucidating - all that and a bag of chips.  We really enjoyed talking to Cory and we hope you enjoy the recording!  You can also view this talk in video form HERE.
01:14:42
March 06, 2022
02/17/22: Quantum Computing in Plato's Cave with Daniel Burgarth
Daniel Burgarth is an associate professor of mathematics at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, where he studies a host of interesting things including various kinds of quantum systems.  Today he joined us to discuss his 2014 Nature paper "Quantum Computing in Plato's Cave", which studied the complexity of quantum computers through a mathematically and philosophically structured lens.  This talk was a lot of fun, and the math was refreshingly easy to follow, despite the difficult topic.  The Q&A section was also quite good, although some of it was cut from the recording (hence why you should always come to events live!).   The paper  Daniel's homepage This presentation as a video
01:04:23
February 17, 2022
02/06/22: Trojan Source Attacks with Nicholas Boucher
Nicholas Boucher is a PhD student in computer science studying under Professor Ross Anderson at the Cambridge Computer Laboratory.  He is also one of the authors of Trojan Source Attacks, a paper (and CVE, and vulnerability class) which highlighted supply-chain vulnerabilities in open-source software (among other things) due to code that is different than it looks.  This is one of the most creative hacks we saw in 2021 and we were thrilled to have Nicholas tell us about it.  The presentation was great, as was the discussion, where we got into the difficulties of the disclosure process, the complexities of peer review (in tandem with ethical vulnerability disclosure), and future problems (🤖🔔🐍🧶are emojis kosher??).  We hope you enjoy! Nicholas's homepage can be found HERE. You can read the Trojan Source Attacks paper HERE. You can see the video of this talk HERE.
01:04:49
February 07, 2022
01/08/22: Covert C2 Channels with Kai Bernardini
Kai Bernardini is a professional hacker/security researcher, a mathematician, and and a lecturer in computer science at Boston University.  He's also better than me at lead belay (no short-roping from Kai!).  Today Kai joined us to discuss covert command and control (C2) channels.  Sure, your communication might be indistinguishable from random noise.  But is it indistinguishable from r/dankmemes?  If not, prepare to get caught by the local sysadmin.  Kai on Github Kai on Twitter This talk on YouTube
01:22:42
January 09, 2022
12/04/21: Feynman Integrals for a Mathematical Audience with Matthew von Hippel
Matt von Hippel is (a) my cousin and (b) a professor at the Niels Bohr International Academy in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he researches scattering amplitudes in gauge and gravity theories.  Matt received his PhD in 2014 from SUNY Stony Brook, and from 2014 to 2017 he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Perimeter Institute.  Today Matt joined us to discuss Feynman integrals.  Apparently "Feynman integral" means different things to different people; the kind discussed here are those associated with "Feynman diagrams".  The talk was engaging and fun, and at the end Matt fielded mathematical questions from the audience, which included both usual BCC members and some NEU mathematics faculty.  This was a fun one and I encourage you to watch it, if you didn't make the live event!  Matt's personal page at the NBIA is HERE.   Matt's popular physics blog is HERE.  Matt can be found on Twitter HERE. This talk can be found in video form HERE. You can learn more about the Boston Computation Club HERE.
58:51
December 04, 2021
12/03/21: Aesthetic and Organic Complexity with Tyler Hobbs & Bill Cresco, moderated by Anya & Joe
Tyler Hobbs is a generative artist from Austin, Texas.  Bill Cresco is a geneticist who specializes in quantitative evolutionary genomics at the University of Oregon.  Today Tyler and Bill joined us for a wide-ranging discussion, seeded by the topic of "complexity".  The conversation was fascilitated by our two excellent moderators, Anya and Joe.  Anya studied studio art and environmental studies at Wellesley College and now works at Reed Hilderbrand, and Joe studied bioengineering at MIT and now works at Ginko Bioworks.  The conversation was wide-ranging and compelling, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we did!   Learn more about Tyler Hobbs HERE. Learn more about Bill Cresco and his lab HERE. Learn more about the Boston Computation Club HERE. Learn more about Anya HERE. Learn more about Joe: Just kidding, you can't, he is an internet ninja. Watch the video version of this talk HERE.
01:14:48
December 04, 2021
10/24/21: An Extensible and Modular Design and Implementation of Monte Carlo Tree Search for the JVM with Larkin Liu & Jun Tao Luo
Larkin Liu is an operations research (OR) & machine learning (ML) specialist, currently completing a PhD in Operations Research under the advisement of Stefan Minner at the Technical University of Munich.  Today Larkin joined us to present *An Extensible and Modular Design and Implementation of Monte Carlo Tree Search for the JVM*, a recent preprint he authored with Jun Tao Luo (MS student in CS at Carnegie Mellon; also in attendance at this talk).  The paper is exactly what it sounds like, and the presentation was a lot of fun, with clear mathematical background, a solid foundation in software engineering principles, and some impressive code demos.     - Preprint: https://arxiv.org/abs/2108.10061  - Larkin: https://larkz.github.io/  - Jun: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jun-tao-luo - Video: https://youtu.be/bVpUlJU-piA
01:06:17
October 24, 2021
10/15/21: Mathematical Programming Modulo Strings with Ankit Kumar
Ankit Kumar is a PhD student in the Khoury College of Computer Science at Northeastern University, advised by Pete Manolios.  He is from Dhanbad, Jharkand, in India, and prior to joining Northeastern, he earned his MTech in Computer Science and Engineering from IIT Kanpur and his BTech in Electrical Engineering from IIT (BHU) Varanasi.  Now, Ankit's research focuses on formal methods (FM) -- particularly in ACL2Sedan -- and the use of FM to study programming languages, including writing machine-checkable proofs to prove properties.  Today Ankit joined us to present Mathematical Programming Modulo Strings, his recent FMCAD21 paper.  This presentation can be viewed as an "extended" version of the 10-minute presentation he gave at that conference.   - Ankit Kumar: https://www.khoury.northeastern.edu/people/ankit-kumar/ - FMCAD21: https://fmcad.org/FMCAD21/ - Pete Manolios: https://www.ccs.neu.edu/~pete/ - The Boston Computation Club: https://bstn.cc/ - Video form of this talk: https://youtu.be/doeauZv3JrE
45:41
October 15, 2021
10/09/21: Types in PL Research vs Types in Julia with Julia Belyakova
Julia Belyakova is a PhD student in computer science at Northeastern University, where she is currently focused on formalizing the Julia programming language.  Julia's primary primary research interests are programming languages and type theory, although she also enjoys theorem proving, generic programming, functional and object-oriented programming, software engineering, programming by contracts, software testing, and as of late, human aspects of software engineering and the interaction between humans and programming languages.  In short: Julia is quite the polymath.  Today she joined us to discuss the Julia Language's type system, in contrast to type systems in other languages, and in programming language research papers.  This was a really fun talk and also a very accessible entry-point to the topic for those without a strong PL background.  We hope you enjoy!   - Julia Belyakova's homepage: https://julbinb.github.io/ - The Julia language: https://julialang.org/ - The Boston Computation Club: https://bstn.cc/ - This talk but as a video: https://youtu.be/JNxrX2XvZIY
01:07:18
October 10, 2021
09/12/21: More Category Theory for More Cybernetics with Matteo Capucci
Matteo Capucci is a PhD student at the University of Strathclyde in the MSP group, advised by Neil Ghani and Scott Cunningham.  He studies Applied Category Theory (aka ACT), specifically Categorical Cybernetics and Applied Topos Theory.  Today Matteo joined us to discuss the foundations of Categorical Cybernetics, in a wide-ranging conversation touching on lenses, feedback systems, dynamical systems, and more.  The conversation extended these ideas to distributed systems, model checking, cyber-physical systems, program sketching, and quantum systems, among other things.  This one was an absolute blast live and we hope you enjoy it after the fact in its audio form.   You can read more about Matteo HERE.  You can read more about the Boston Computation Club HERE. You can watch this presentation in video form on YouTube HERE.
01:16:38
September 12, 2021
08/28/21: Compilation Techniques for Reconfigurable Analog Devices with Sara Archour
Sara Archour recently completed a PhD at MIT/CSAIL in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence, and is joining Stanford University (EE) as an Associate Professor. Sara studies analog computers - how to build them; how to use them; what they're good for; how to stick them together to do interesting things; and so forth. Today, Sara joined us to discuss these things, with a smidgeon of career advice at the end :) Sara Archour's homepage can be found HERE. This presentation can also be viewed in video format HERE.
01:01:49
August 28, 2021
07/30/21: Structural Attacks on Local Routing in Payment Channel Networks with Ben Weintraub
Ben Weintraub is a PhD student in computer science at Northeastern University, advised by Cristina Nita-Rotaru.  Today he joined us to present his paper *Structural Attacks on Local Routing in Payment Channel Networks*, which was accepted to the 2021 Euro S&P Blockchain workshop.  This is a fascinating paper studying a startlingly powerful attack strategy against payment channel networks.  We really enjoyed Ben's presentation and the subsequent discussion, which involved PhD students in computer science and economics, in addition to professional engineers and mathematicians.  You can learn more about Ben and his work here: https://ben-weintraub.com/ This talk is also available on YouTube HERE.
58:42
July 30, 2021
07/24/21: Linear Haskell with Artem Pelenitsyn
Artem is a PhD student in computer science at Northeastern University, advised by Professor Jan Vitek.  Prior to joining the Khoury PhD program, Artem worked as an Assistant Professor at Southern Federal University in Russia, where he earned his MSc and BSc.  Today Artem joined us to present about linear Haskell, a version of / feature-set for Haskell allowing "linear" types.  Artem explained linearity, why it might be useful, and why adding linear types to an existing (non-linear) language can be difficult - with Haskell as a case study. You can watch a video version of Artem's talk [HERE]. You can learn more about Artem [HERE].
01:17:43
July 24, 2021
07/10/21: The Illogical Nature of Chemical Nomenclature [Biology Café #1]
"Café Events" are small, informal events where we discuss our research and our (perhaps, unfulfilled) research interests.  Our ongoing "Biology Café" series is exactly that, but focused on topics at the intersection of biology and computation.  Today's presentation by Sophia von Hippel covered the open, and very important, problem of developing a mathematical language for chemistry.  Chemistry has a great diagrammatic syntax, but a (or, multiple) terrible prose representation.  Sophia presents the problem in clear and careful detail with examples, and then we discuss.  TL;DR: we don't solve the problem.  Sophia is currently pursuing a BS in Chemistry at the University of Arizona (with Honors).  She previously interned with NASA and served as a COVID-19 vaccinator.  She is also an Emergency Medical Technician with the University of Arizona Emergency Medical Services (UAEMS).  You can also view this presentation as a video on YouTube [HERE].
01:02:55
July 10, 2021
06/13/21: Modeling Content and Context with Deep Relational Learning with Maria Leonor Pacheco
Maria is a PhD student in Computer Science at Purdue University, where she works with Dr. Dan Goldwasser on neural-symbolic methods to model natural language discourse, among other things.  Today she presented her recent project DRaiL, "an open-source declarative framework for specifying deep relational models, designed to support a variety of NLP scenarios."   [ Paper ] [ Maria ][ Code ][ Video ][ Boston Computation Club ]
55:56
June 13, 2021
05/29/21: Homotopy Type Theory 101 with Carlo Angiuli
Carlo is a postdoc in the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University, where he received a Ph.D. under Robert Harper. He previously studied at Indiana University Bloomington, where he received a B.S. in Mathematics and in Computer Science.  Today Carlo joined us to discuss Homotopy Type Theory, a new foundations for mathematics based on a recently-discovered connection between Homotopy Theory and Type Theory.  Carlo explains intuitively what Homotopy Type Theory is and how it is used, and then goes over various possible implementations of Homotopy Type Theory in a theorem-proving environment such as Coq.  Finally, he fields questions on Homotopy Type Theory, theorem-proving, and other topics from the Boston Computation Club audience. The Boston Computation Club can be found at https://bstn.cc/ Carlo Angiuli can be found at https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~cangiuli/ A video recording of this talk is available at https://youtu.be/VMqF06fDljU For more on Homotopy Type Theory refer to https://homotopytypetheory.org/book/
01:04:55
June 09, 2021