Keith Winstein’s homepage

Keith Winstein
32 Vassar St., room 32-G996
Cambridge, MA 02139

About Me

I am a Ph.D. candidate in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, interested in computer networking and planning to graduate in June 2014. My advisor is Hari Balakrishnan. In 2012–2013, I held the Claude E. Shannon Research Assistantship at MIT.

From 2009–2011, I worked at Ksplice, Inc. (now part of Oracle Corp.), where I was the vice president of product management and business development and also cleaned the bathroom. Before that, I spent three years as a staff reporter at The Wall Street Journal, covering health care, medicine, science and technology. Earlier, I received a B.S. (2004) and M.Eng. (2005) in electrical engineering and computer science at MIT. I also received an E.E. degree in 2014.

Application materials: I am applying for academic jobs this year. Here is my CV, my research statement, and my teaching statement.

Blog: Here is my blog, mostly of answers on Quora. I also started the group blog for computer networking and systems. If you study networks, please consider joining Layer 9!

Notable newspaper articles:


November 2013:

Anirudh Sivaraman, KW, Suvinay Subramanian, and Hari Balakrishnan, No Silver Bullet: Extending SDN to the Data Plane, in Proceedings of ACM HotNets 2013, College Park, Md., November 2013.

Working with my colleague Anirudh Sivaraman, we demonstrated bidirectional cyclic preference loops among three popular algorithms that control queueing and scheduling behavior within a packet-switched network. Our thesis: no such scheme can remain dominant as application objectives evolve, so routers and switches should be programmable in this respect.

August 2013:

TCP ex Machina: Computer-Generated Congestion Control, in Proceedings of ACM SIGCOMM 2013, Hong Kong, China, August 2013.

Remy is a computer program that creates TCP congestion-control algorithms from first principles, given uncertain prior knowledge about the network and an objective to achieve. These computer-generated schemes outperform their human-generated forebears, even ones that benefit from running code inside the network! (Joint work with my advisor, Hari Balakrishnan.)

April 2013:

Sprout: Stochastic Forecasts Achieve High Throughput and Low Delay over Cellular Networks, in Proceedings of USENIX NSDI 2013, Lombard, Ill., April 2013. Won 2014 Applied Networking Research Prize.

We showed that on today's cellular networks, with some simple inferential techniques it is possible to achieve 7-9x less delay than Skype, Facetime, and Google Hangout, while achieving 2-4x the throughput of these applications at the same time. We packaged the evaluation into one VM and held a contest for 40 students to try to find a better algorithm on the same conditions. We were able to match the performance of the in-network CoDel algorithm, while operating purely end-to-end. (Joint work with my colleague Anirudh Sivaraman and Hari Balakrishnan.)

January 2013:

On the divergence of Google Flu Trends from the target U.S., French, and Japanese indexes in 2012–2013. Presentation slides (March 14, 2013), delivered at Children's Hospital Informatics Program | Interview 1 | Interview 2 | Radio interview

June 2012:

Mosh: An Interactive Remote Shell for Mobile Clients, in Proceedings of USENIX ATC 2012, Boston, Mass., June 2012.

We built a novel datagram protocol that synchronizes the state of abstract objects over a challenged, mobile network. We used this to implement a replacement for the venerable SSH application that tolerates intermittent connectivity and roaming, and has a predictive local user interface. The program is in wide release with hundreds of thousands of downloads. Joint work with Hari Balakrishnan (research) and with Keegan McAllister, Anders Kaseorg, Quentin Smith, and Richard Tibbetts (software).

November 2011:

End-to-End Transmission Control by Modeling Uncertainty about the Network State
, in Proceedings of ACM HotNets 2011, Cambridge, Mass., November 2011.

We show it is possible to produce reasonable transmission control from first principles and Bayesian inference, when contending only with nonresponsive cross traffic. The workshop paper that eventually became Remy. (Joint work with Hari Balakrishnan.)

October 2009:

False positive rate for Barnard's test for superiority at nominal 0.05 alpha (red), vs. modified test (blue) informed by prior that true value lies within shaded region.

Developed exchange algorithm to calculate the coverage probability and false-positive rate of “exact” 2x2 confidence intervals and hypothesis tests. Typically these tests (e.g., Barnard's test for superiority, the Chan test for non-inferiority) take 5-10 minutes to run at sample sizes of 1000x1000 in software like StatXAct. The exchange algorithm calculates the whole tableau (all 1001x1001 outcomes) in the same difficulty as the “hardest” single p-value or confidence interval. Much similar work had been done for one-dimensional tests and intervals, but the two-dimensional case had previously been intractable.

This technique allows us to empirically test traditional statistical rules of thumb, like the appropriateness of the chi-square test when E[ n p ] > 5, or the notion that exact tests are unnecessarily conservative. It also allows us to design new tests and intervals that minimize conservatism and ripple. The above graph shows the benefit of applying a “prior” to classical (frequentist) inference. Barnard's test for superiority controls false positives unconditionally (the red line is always below 0.05), but at a cost of conservatism in the region of p=0.35. We find that if we are able to state a region where the parameter is assumed to lie a priori, we can produce a modified hypothesis test with better performance inside that region.

January 2009:

Confidence and credible intervals for the same likelihood distribution. Each performs poorly when evaluated by the metrics the other is designed to meet.

In 2007, an academic cardiologist downloaded 42 medical studies from the Web site of drug giant GlaxoSmithKline, combined them in a meta-analysis, and found that Avandia, the world's best-selling diabetes drug, caused heart attacks. GSK lost about $12 billion in sales and market value. But a different way to analyze the same data—a “Bayesian” way—finds that the drug actually reduces heart attacks. Or does it?

We often hear of this conflict, between Bayesian and “frequentist” statistics. But much of the conflict is misguided. Viewed formally, on the same axes, the two schools of statistics turn out to share a tight symmetry. Criticisms of each can be transformed into a corresponding criticism of the other.

Slides from talk given at University of Chicago (January 2009), U.T. Austin (April 2011), MIT CSAIL (October 2013), Boston Children's Hospital (October 2013), Harvard Medical School (February 2014). Also essay version of the main section of the talk.

January 2006:

MIT OpenCourseWare taped my 8-hour Introduction to Copyright Law course, which I taught for the EECS department in MIT's Independent Activities Period of 2006.

October 2004:

Sean Dougherty for USA Today

Created the Library Access to Music Project, which has served as MIT's open-access electronic music library since 2004. (Joint work with Josh Mandel.) Coverage in NYT | USA Today | Boston Globe | NPR Morning Edition | Fark
March 2004:

Broke the encryption
on the Motorola (now Indala) FlexSecur system of RFID cards in use at MIT. (Joint work with Austin Roach and Josh Mandel.)

December 2003:

Improving 802.11 Range with Forward Error Correction
, CSAIL AI Memo 2005-004, February 2005. Added forward error correction to Wi-Fi, extending range by 70 percent. (Joint work with Reina Riemann.)

March 2001:

Six-line DVD descrambler, written for an IAP seminar at MIT on DVD and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, joined by DVD-CCA representative David Barr, Harvard Law School's Jonathan Zittrain, and MIT's Hal Abelson. (Joint work with Marc Horowitz.) Coverage by CNET | IDG | Wired | The Tech.

January 2000:

In 2000, I took over the job of MIT Infinite Corridor Astronomer from Ken Olum. We later captured the “MIThenge” phenomenon on video and improved the accuracy of the predictions. It turns out most models of atmospheric refraction don't work well within <0.8 degrees of the horizon. Strangely, real astronomers rarely find this to be a big problem...

August 1999:

New frontiers in optical character recognition, recognized by the prestigious Obfuscated Perl Contest.

December 1998:

The first automated linguistic steganography.