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SIGACT News

I was Editor of ACM SIGACT News, the newsletter of the ACM Special Interest Group on Algorithms and Computation Theory, for 11 years from 1991 to 2002, putting out 45 quarterly issues of 100-120 pages. My job included managing a cadre of dedicated volunteer columnists and contributors, interfacing with staff at ACM HQ, and preparing camera-ready copy four times a year. A number of innovations happened on my watch, including the creation of the world-wide web, online publishing, and ultimately the ACM Digital Library. There was the Centennial Issue too. But it was the mundane business of putting out an issue every quarter that took up most of my time. Here's my task list:
  1. Email reminders to the volunteers and the theory community a couple of times before the deadline.
  2. Collect submissions, check them as they come in, but not for the last-minute submissions.
  3. After the deadline, start preparing camera-ready copy. Make sure everything processes properly using LaTeX or Microsoft Word typically.
  4. Count pages. Pages are bound in folios of size a power of two. The larger the folio, the cheaper the page cost. Therefore, sometimes adding a page can decrease the cost. Empty pages are considered bad form though. Adjust page count by diddling with the font size (11pt or 12pt) and the margin size of individual submissions. At the same time, it's best to avoid mostly-blank pages. Mostly this process converges to a good solution, but I occasionally had to resort to a single page, non-revenue-generating in-house ad from ACM HQ to fill the last page. This was the most stressful and time-consuming part of the job.
  5. Print everything on a 600dpi printer.
  6. Add page numbers. These were often typewritten in by hand (sometimes low tech is the simplest and most reliable way to go).
  7. Write and print the Letter from the Editor (p. 1).
  8. Prepare and print the Table of Contents for the front cover.
  9. Prepare and print the inside front and back covers.
  10. Bundle up everything and express mail to ACM HQ.
  11. Email out a thank-you to volunteer staff.
  12. Deal with any post-production issues or screwups with staff at ACM HQ.

Here are some of the highlights of my time in the Editor's seat. There's one pdf file per year containing my "Letter From the Editor" pages. Some of them (the less attractive looking ones) are from my original postscript files, the others I had to reproduce from the LaTeX source. The latter do look better, but they may not be formatted exactly the same way that the originals were due to changes in LaTeX. The content remains the same.

1991 to 1995

1991 (Vol. 22, Issues 3-4)

My first issue as Editor was in 1991 starting at Vol. 22, Issue 3. S. S. Ravi resigned as Journal Backlog Reporter, Fran Berman joined as CRA Status of Women columnist. [pdf]

1992 (Vol. 23, Issues 1-4)

Mark Weiss took over as Journal Backlog Reporter. I performed an analysis of the amount of time it takes SIGACT News to arrive by snailmail, published in Vol. 23, Issue 2 (see the pdf link below). As a result we moved from third-class to second class mail, which was actually cheaper (go figure), but required tighter deadlines. SIGACT changed its name from Special Interest Group on Algorithms and Computability Theory to Special Interest Group on Algorithms and Computation Theory. Tom Jacob started a Book Review Column. Vol. 23, Issue 4 started the Quarterly Quote. [pdf]

1993 (Vol. 24, Issues 1-4)

Lane Hemachandra, who promptly changed his name to Lane Hemaspaandra, took over the Computational Complexity Column. In the first move towards electronic content, I put the submission guidelines up on an ftp server. ACM HQ started messing with our minds by changing the names of our issues from the seasons (Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer) to the months (January, April, July, October), which required adjustment of the submission deadlines. Mike Goodrich started the Parallel Algorithms Column. [pdf]

1994 (Vol. 25, Issues 1-4)

ACM HQ decided that we need to change our issue dates to March, June, September, and December in order to keep our second-class mail license. ACM HQ also took over managing the details of advertising in SIGACT News, which was a good thing. Victor Vianu took over the Database Theory Column. SIGACT News made the first tentative move onto the www with an information page hosted on my desktop computer. Joseph Ganley took over the Theory Calendar. [pdf]

1995 (Vol. 26, Issues 1-4)

Yossi Matias took over the Parallel Algorithms Column. I started the TCS Virtual Rolodex online so theoreticians can keep in contact with each other. This was before Google, remember. Lenny Heath took over the Theory Calendar. [pdf]

1996: The Centennial Year

1996 (Vol. 27, Issues 1-4)

In Vol. 27, Issue 1 I posted the results of a survey of how long it took SIGACT News to arrive by smailmail (see the pdf link below). Vol. 27, Issue 2 was the 99th Issue. Vol. 27, Issue 3 was the 100th Issue. I celebrated by changing the cover from the old matte orange look (image of #99 below, left) favored by the previous Editor, Mike Langston, replacing it with a glossy white cover with orange accents (image of #100 below, right) to maintain continuity. The cover of #100 had a "Special 100th Issue" band too.

Cover Images.

Issue #100 was the first to appear online. I posted a pdf file on the SIGACT web server when the print issue was sent to ACM HQ, which meant that members had access to it about a month before it arrived by snailmail. ACM eventually caught up with the times and sucked SIGACT News Online into their digital library, but we were there first! This added an extra job to my task list (convert the final postscript files into a big pdf and post it), but that didn't take more than half an hour. [pdf]

1997 to 2002

1997 (Vol. 28, Issues 1-4)

Joel Seiferas took over the Reprints from Computing Reviews Column. Bill Gasarch took over the Book Review Column. Rakesh Sinha took over the Technical Report Column. Jon Riecke took over the Logic Column. ACM HQ asked us to include SIGACT's Mission Statement in every issue so starting with Vol. 28, Issue 4 I put it on p. 1. [pdf]

1998 (Vol. 29, Issues 1-4)

Several columnist resignations, otherwise things were just humming along on autopilot. [pdf]

1999 (Vol. 30, Issues 1-4)

David Haglin took over as Technical Reports Columnist. Vol. 30, Issue 2 had a lot of kerfuffle about NSF funding. Vol. 30, Issue 3 was my 33rd, making me the longest serving Editor at that point, beating out Larry Reeker, who coincidentally was one of my professors at the University of Queensland in Australia when I was a callow undergraduate. [pdf]

2000 (Vol. 31, Issues 1-4)

In Vol. 31, Issue 1 I report that "ACM is in the throes of creating a digital library". More kerfuffle about NSF funding in Vol. 31, Issue 2. It appears that a lot of theoreticians are off cashing in on the dot com boom. (In retrospect, I was right about that.) Sriram Pennaraju takes over the Theory Calendar. Sergio Rajsbaum takes over the Distributed Computing Column. [pdf]

2001 (Vol. 32, Issues 1-4)

Vol. 32, Issue 2 is my 40th, marking 10 years as Editor. Quarterly Quotes is 8 years old. Samir Khuller starts the Algorithms Column. [pdf]

2002 (Vol. 33, Issues 1-3)

A chronic illness that started to manifest itself seriously at the end of 2000 kept me from being able to deal with deadlines. Vol. 33, Issue 3 this year was my last. It ended not with a bang, but with a whimper. I just couldn't do it any more. [pdf]

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