This is a hectic time for me: I just got back from a workshop, and am now in Zurich for the ESA PC meeting, after which I go vortex hunting for a few days. Of course, my not-quite-10-month-old chose this exact weekend to get off his b*** and start slithering around on the floor.
Zurich is a nice town, and I emphasize the word 'town'. People remarked on how quiet the town appeared to be even on Friday and Saturday nights. We finally found the area where all the action was, but it was still quite small. The wonders of decentralization ! Apparently, Switzerland is so decentralized that you acquire citizenship by municipality or canton vote, rather than by any kind of nationalized process. My neighbours in Philadelphia barely know who I am :)
I had a good reason to like Switzerland even before I came here. It is the only place where an American green card is sufficient to enter the country: no annoying visa forms to fill out (Hindi-Swiss bhai bhai !!). My second reason to like Zurich in particular is that this is the first European city where I didn't feel like a homeless bum wearing the clothes that I did. Much of Western Europe is far too well-dressed for my slovenly tastes.
Where was I ? Oh yes, the PC meeting...
Of the major theory conferences that I am familiar with, STOC, FOCS, SoCG all have physical PC meetings, and ESA occasionally has one as well (they didn't have one last year). SODA most notably among the major conferences does NOT have a PC meeting: given the size of SODA PCs, this is not surprising.
Having a physical PC meeting creates an interesting dynamic. It has often been observed that people are much ruder on the internet than in real life; the relative anonymity of the Net appears to eliminate the social norms that pressure us into good behaviour. A physical PC meeting does tend to moderate sharp edges in our tendencies to do battle. As long as the PC chair can prune obvious rejects ahead of time in electronic discussions, like Thomas Erlebach did for us, we can have a fairly efficient meeting, and have reasonable discussions on all papers.
People put a lot of faith in scoring: it is interesting that high scores are not always a sure sign of acceptance. When people get together to discuss papers, far more nuances emerge, and overall I think this is a very good thing. Of course, all of this can happen in an electronic meeting as well; it's just that the process of deliberation feels very different. It's also quite a pleasure to meet face-to-face some of the people you might have had discussions with.
One day over; one more to go. Time to find some good Swiss chocolate (and no, I don't mean Lindt).