Monday, January 31, 2005

The web, bringing scary news

This is one of the most depressing articles I've read in a long time: Home PCs Predict Hotter Earth. According to these new predictions, if people (I'm not pointing fingers at anybody in particular) don't stop making silly decisions to hide their own inability to govern, we are going to fry in the near future. Fry and drown! Isn't this really cool?

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Going hiking around Seattle

Yes, finally I did go hiking! Got all my pseudo-gear (I don't have any hiking-specific things, like my friend had, such as a water bottle with a hose from which you could drink without having to stop and get your water bottle and then put it back inside your bag, and really water-proof hiking boots - and that's what I missed most, it was very muddy there) and there we went, to the Tiger Mountain!

It is a very closeby place, only about 10 (13 km) from my apartment. The hike started with lots of mud and a very steep climb of something like 700 meters! My legs were dying when we reached a plateau, but then it became easier. We were following a map trying to go around this mountain. But then we had a Twilight Zone experience: imagine this, we start a hike facing nortwest, only take right turns and when you realize we end up a mile west of where we started. It just didn't make any sense at all! But after walking for about 3 hours, we decided that we should go home. We went for lunch and then he dropped me at home (he was driving).

In the evening I decided to go out with another friend for dinner. My plan was just go enjoy the evening with a nice talk, but then I found out that I was suddenly on a date! We had good conversation, but this "date" thing just made the evening weird.

But it didn't end this way! Sunday I spent most of the day working on my research until around 5 pm when she called me again and asked if I didn't want to go out again. Me, the "yes guy", fell for that again. And there I went for a second meeting that was treated as a second date. I felt like everything was getting more and more complicated. We had just a great time talking, but the idea that it was supposed to be a "date" was still akward.

Well, but this wasn't everything either! Just 30 minutes ago I came online and she was here. We started talking and then suddenly she mentioned how much she was starting to miss me and it just went down from there. Crying here and there, and I was just thinking: "oh, my research... Oh, my hunger... oh, my work!"

But I had to finish this post before going and doing all this. I think I'm retiring my MSN messenger. It is not that I don't like her (I have to make this clear, because this is not an anonymous blog), it is just that I need to finish my Ph.D. soon! And there are just too many things that I need to focus on right now... I'm just in the wrong mindset! And, hey, I just met her!

Friday, January 28, 2005

I'll start today's post with an interesting article I found on Reason: Free Kurdistan! It talks about something that appears from time to time in the mind of people: why should Iraq be unified? Isn't unification dictatorial and can potentially lead to more blodshed? It's interesting to think about that. What do I think? I think that it is all wrong, anyway, so why not just accept it and go on with what you have? Go and have a unified Iraq and see what this will take you! When the poor US soldiers will be able to be sent back home? Not anytime soon...

After this prelude, it's time for a little summary of my week. First I have to say that nothing really exciting happened. I worked on both my research and... on my work. Actually there is one potentially exciting thing: tomorrow I'm going hiking with a friend from work. He has been trying to plan this for a while, but finally we decided to go for it. Surely the weather won't be great, but what to expect from Seattle during the winter? It is going to be fun anyway, I'm sure!

I actually got bad news: my most important paper of all I've sent was rejected. And it wasn't a very "mild" rejection, but a "rewrite everything" type of rejection. Made me a little sad.

Oh, and on my way back from work today (yes, around 10 pm), I had some strange ideas of things I should add to my dissertation. Statistical analysis about network growth being the basis for the creation of normalization techniques. It would probably work, but I don't know if I want to go through the whole math. I don't know if it is worth it... I would have to make so many assumptions that it wouldn't be that useful. I'll think a little bit more about this!

Time to go. I still have to have dinner here. And then go to buy some supplies for tomorrow.

Monday, January 24, 2005

The benefits of having poor memory

Not being able to memorize most things are most always a big problem that I have to live with every day. However, from time to time I have to enjoy some of the benefits. One of the most important benefits is that when I read something I wrote some time ago I get impressed with my past ability to write! I do get a little depressed by thinking that if I think I wrote well in the past, it means that I write badly right now.

Anyway, more specifically I was working on my dissertation and I was impressed with how readable I think it is. There are very few things that I would really change, and this makes me excited! I do have to change one chapter and add a new one (and to correct the introduction and conclusion to match this change), but the rest of the dissertation is pretty good, in my humble opinion (remember that it seems like to me as if I wasn't the one that wrote it - I know the content, but the words just seem alien).

A day I was glad I work at Amazon

Today it was one of the days I was really happy I work here. Why? Because I had the opportunity of seeing and getting a free autographed book from Alton Brown! You might be thinking: who is Alton Brown? Before you actually click on the link, I'll tell you that he is the hero of nerds that like to cook! His objective in life is to try to understand what happens when you cook and put it in very simple terms to appeal to the non-experts.

If you've watched at least some of his shows you know his jokes, right? Well, life he is a real comedian, making fun of Rachael Ray and Emeril (who doesn't, right? Even on the cooking presentation I saw on Saturday, the chef made fun of Emeril's "BAM"). It was great! A very healthy way of investing 1 hour of my day.

I have many things to say about it, but I have to run now. I'm trying to get home early so that I can work on my research.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Build it and they will come

Especially if you build something on the internet, somebody will always find it. Today I had the experience of somebody finding my profile on JDate (although I did remove it from all searches for some reason I don't quite remember) and coming to me and asking "how is it doing?"

What do you answer to a question like this? "Oh, it's doing great! I'm having a couple of dates every evening, but still looking for my soul mate!"? I actually went for the reality: "Well, it's not going, but I never put my profile there with any hope that it would get me anywhere" To tell you the truth (and this I didn't tell that girl), I'm not even looking right now. Yes, I am looking for friends to take me away from my apartment, but nobody to take me away from finishing my Ph.D. I have lots of things to do and work is already taking more time than I really wanted.

But I did have a nice evening. It was a Tu B'shvat seder... I haven't had a seder for this holiday since my Bar Mitzvah days (a LONG time ago). And actually back then you don't quite get all the symbolism in a holiday. This one is full of kabalististic stuff, with groups of 4 and doing things in progression of getting closer to G'd. It was really interesting. Lots of fruit!

Then I went out with some of the people to a bar by the university. I was first worried that I was going to see all these college students, but it was pretty empty and quiet. Nice place to sit and talk (and to hear that somebody found my profile on JDate). Actually yesterday was nice too! I went for a Shabbat dinner and then we also went out to a bar to talk. This bar was a little noisier and strange. The dècor didn't make any sense! Mirrors, tables with flowers on them, selling beer and pies, with hard rock being played. In the back they had a pool table (the place was small, so the back wasn't that far away from the front).

The only problem with yesterday is that it ended up getting so late that I had no bus to get back home (actually there was one that I could get at 2 am, but it was still 1 am only). The good thing is that somebody did give me a ride back home, so I didn't have to worry too much.

Today was cleaning and working on my research. Tomorrow is going to be the same thing. But now I think I'm going to bed.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

I forgot one thing that people that read my post might have been thinking: if you don't like the way things are done here, especially politics, why are you here? The answer is very simple: the hope is in the fact that the world is not only made of politics (as some people might think... Maybe politics and family). You will never find a place in which everything is perfect, but this doesn't mean that you can't criticize! Only people with very little aspirations in life don't criticize and just go away, learn to live with it, or worse, join the crowd.

President Bush's inauguration joke

This morning, when I was having breakfast, I turned on the TV to check the weather. As there was nothing really exciting happening in the weather, I switched to CNN. And what did I get? The whole President Bush Inauguration thing. A joke! People discussing how proud they were to be American, and what a wonderful time they were going through. It was just so hypocritical, nearing complete senselessness. What were these people talking about? A president that was able to divide the country but get a little bit over 50% of it? And not only that, the other half felt ashamed that this president won. It is not only that they were sad that who they thought was better lost, like happens in a sports event, they were actually depressed with the fact that the other half chose to reelect Mr. Bush. These are not great times, these are times that you should stop and think of what went wrong. These are times to be ashamed of.

I'm sure right now some of the very few people that actually read my blog are thinking: "what are you talking about, you don't even vote!" And this makes me way more depressed about it. It doesn't mean that I don't see what is around me. It doesn't mean that I didn't feel the state of mourning that this city was in the day after the elections.

I'm not being political here trying to say that the American people elected the wrong guy, I'm just criticizing the people that thought that this was a victory and that the day today was a celebration of freedom and patriotism. There are people dying around the world. Poverty, lack of education, abuse of power and chaos just grow. Much more important than that, new ideas, cure for diseases, and the human understanding is growing every minute. And people are celebrating the little show of a person that is continuing to be the president? Feeling that it is great that a senator from Arkansas is walking around the stage to talk with another senator from Indiana? Where are people's sense of reality?

I keep tying to convince myself that education would solve all of it. But what is education if not only the imposition of a set of "truths"? For the eye of the show makers, I'm worse than them all.

Yesterday I had a long discussion with one of my co-workers about why he thinks that the patriot act is wrong. Why shouldn't they be allowed to check all the books that you are getting from the library? He likes his "liberties" and doesn't want to trade them from an immaterial concept of security from "terrorists". I don't care about security, but I don't think that the government doing anything with my library records actually takes away any of my liberties. They are not restricting the places I go or the books I read. They are actually spending money for nothing useful. Looking at people's library records doesn't tell you anything. If you are an actual terrorist, you will find ways of getting books anyway. Internet, Xerox machines at the libraries, friends, false identities... They will be mining for a needle (one day that the person was a little lazy) in the haystack. The amount of noise in large datasets such as these makes analysis impossible. What can you do, then? Find a person that seems suspicious and then run checks. And this you can do anyway with warrants, so they just simply decreased the bureaucracy...

Anyway, it seems like I left the topic. But I actually didn't. The bottom line I wanted to get using these two examples is that it is too easy to make people focus on tractable things. Building a show, asking for permission to look into people's library records or flight history. But this misses the problem, thus missing the solution. The world needs less money and attention spent on consequences and more work devoted on sources. It may be painful, scary, but it's the only way to go. Make the inauguration ceremony as just the previous president giving the key to the White House to the new president. If the president didn't change, just don't do anything. Make fighting terrorism the analysis of its roots. Empower people that make a difference, and not the people that squash the differences.

Leaving in a lighter note, today I was asked if it wouldn't be better if I left where I'm working right now and just opened a startup. Less politics...

Good news

I just got a piece of good news: my first paper related to my research was finally accepted to be published on a journal! That will be my 3rd journal publication, but the first on my research. Minor detail that it is on a part of my research that I'm not really proud of, but, as I said, it's just a minor detail. I'm waiting for my first paper to be accepted, that's where the core of my research lies... So I'll keep on waiting.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

I wished I had a silent camera...

Today in the bus ride back home I really wished I had a silent camera to take pictures of some strange people that were riding in the same bus as I was.

First, ahead of me there was a person with a huge 70's afro hair and big earphones that were getting to his ears from under his afro in the back. He was listening to rap music loud enough for me to hear!

Then, on my right I had a guy that was wearing jeans full of patches and a security pin just pinned on the tigh, an inside out shirt and wearing yellow swim goggles. Oh, and he also wore those gloves that have open fingers, but a sort of cap that you can pull onto your fingers to heat them. Very strange.

And behind me there was a guy that was wearing jeans, a shirt and tie and carrying a camping backpack (those ones with metal to keep it straight).

Just out of this world... But I really liked it! I enjoy going around and seeing people being themselves, strange, but themselves. Last weekend, during a very strange talk with one of the "survivors" from the karaoke, she mentioned: "The sexiest thing that there is is a confident man". Oh, she had a boyfriend, so don't start having ideas of what she meant by it! But that's exactly what I saw today: men that were confident on their strange way of dressing and seeing reality. I didn't quite think they were any close to being sexy. That's a good thing!

Monday, January 17, 2005

The 3 finger approach to eating a muffin

I've never understood why would a person use their fingers to pick up a piece of a muffin to eat it, instead of holding the paper and taking bites out of it directly. The second option does not make your hand dirty and potentially generates less crumbs, that usually are the result of moving the piece of muffin from the paper on the table to your mouth.

Anyway, I just have been trying to post more often with more "philosophical/technological" discussions than just what is my day about. Hope this makes this blog more interesting.

Sure I still need to find time to make it look nicer, but I'll get there eventually.

Strange OCR technology

I've been going through some research on learning vocabulary and I've found nothing really interesting except one strange page. Somebody decided to put online an essay written in the 17th century by an early linguist analyzing ontology and how each language produces it. It is a very interesting text, but the most interesting about it is the apparent OCR technology that was used. See it for yourself.

It does strange tranlation of numbers like "2" into "To"... "4" into "For"... And also sometimes changes the text. Have a look and try to imagine what can be behind the technology. I'm almost thinking it is a speech recognition software with someone dictating it...

Just a little tired... and very disappointed

Yesterday was a very strange day. And unfortunately I can't say it was a good type of strange.

I had two main goals for the day: finish cleaning my apartment and finish my last analysis before going back to only writing my dissertation and finish my weekly house cleaning.

Well, I can say that I didn't get either accomplished. I did wake up early and got to work. Half way into the analysis, I decided that maybe it would be better if I simplified it and wrote everything in another language. Then I took a long time trying to decide if I was going to try to learn Ruby or remember Python. In the middle of all this discussion I decided to go to Barnes and Noble and buy a Ruby book. When I got there I found out that they didn't have any!!! So... I ended up buying other things and going back home. In the end I decided to go for Python again. But it was already 3 pm and I hadn't had lunch! So I went to the kitchend and decided on what I was going to make for a lunch/dinner. Chicken and rosemary dumplings and a barley pilaf. It was really good, but I finished everything (shopping for the ingredients, cooking, eating and cleaning up) and it was already 8 pm, the time I wanted to go to the JConnect Jews and Brews, a get-together for Jewish young adults.

There was a much smaller crowd yesterday than the last one I went to, but I had a good time (in the beginning, at least). Then, after they kicked us out of the place, at around 1:30 am, one of the people I was talking to decided to invite the "survivors" (5 people) to his apartment to continue the conversation. So there we went!

The conversation started interesting, but quickly, with the help of a couple of glasses of wine, it suddenly turned strange. They started talking about their trips to Amsterdam (3 of them had been there) and all the drugs they took when they were there. I was utterly disgusted, and disappointed at where the conversation was going. At 3:30 am we decided to disband and go to our places. I went to sleep at around 4 am and woke up at 6:30. Lots of sleep! But I'm fine, a little "groggy", but that makes life fun.

Now it's time to work. I'm not sure what to work on, though...

Saturday, January 15, 2005

A strange day...

That's all I can say about yesterday.

On Thrusday the manager of my group presented part of our vision to the president of the company. The problem is that the president didn't like it. After a very tough 2 1/2 hour discussion (of which I didn't participate - only big shots were there), they've concluded that we have to redo our vision. Yesterday morning I got the debriefing of this meeting and then everything became strange. I didn't know what I had to do any more, I've lost idea of what my priorities were and nobody could help me with that. So, in the end, I ended up just having discussions with everybody about what the meeting meant (hearing some very pressimistic views of it) and then I went for a Shabbat evening service and dinner at the Hillel. It was nice, I met nice people and had interesting conversations. I've even met an Argentinian that knows some Brazilians, so there is a chance that I'll finally meet some part of the Brazilian community here in Seattle.

Today has been a little lazy. I've paid some bills, browsed the internet, cleaned, walked to lunch at an Indian place closeby (not before I spent about 15 minutes looking for my house keys that I had previously put inside my pocket - but that's a minor detail) and now I'm ready to work on my research again. There are a number of things that I want to get done today, so I should get to them.

There is one thing that is worrying me, actually: my lack of inspiration to write, that is probably related to my lack of things that I'm learning and think are of interest to other people. Yes, it is true that almost half of my day I'm at work and there are too many things at work that would give me trouble if I wrote them here. The rest of the time half of it I'm asleep, 1/4 of it I'm cooking/eating and then I'm left with only 1/8 of my day, 3 hours. 1 of these hours I spend in the bus going from home to work and back. Nothing really important usually happens in the bus, besides me reading a book and sometimes some strange people that decide to be talkative and interrupt my reading (not that it bothers me, but is something I would never do to anybody else). Then I'm left with 2 hours that are spent reading emails, working a little on my research and, sometimes, reading a little more of my book.

Yes, I'm not doing anything really exciting... I have to figure out how to change that!

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Sometimes it's hard to answer this question when you sometimes forget who you are and where you are. Sometimes actions require retaliation, but most of the times an offensive response is the last thing that you should look for. I'm usually a peaceful person, although the world around me keeps shooting me bullets trying to make me react, I guess. But I just move about and let the rain fall somewhere else.

Sorry for the delay to write all this. I've been trying to post this since earlier this week, but I just can't get any free time to finish it. I write a phrase then stop to work on other things. Right now I decided that I need to just finish it and post it, even if it expresses much less than I would like to. Sometimes not writing much tells more than spending hours discussing nothingness and its importance to life.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

A day of cleaning, reading, watching movies and eating...

Oh, and I worked too!

This is my day. It actually started with me finally finishing "Fallen Dragon" by Peter F. Hamilton. It is an interesting book, but I can't say it's great. Like most comments about the book, all the flashback moments are a little tiring and don't add too much to the story itself. The main line of the story, a resistance movement against a corporation that makes money by going to colonies and forcing these colonies to give them products from their factories aided by a highly advanced alien race, is not that inspired either. Sure there are some memorable philosophical discussions about technology and the reason corporations exist, but they don't go too far. A shame, but again, not too bad.

Then I cleaned my apartment. Not everything, but I vacuumed and did laundry. Now I just need to finish cleaning the bathrooms (oh joy! But tomorrow's joy). Then I worked on my research and on some stuff for Amazon. Last evening I left when my server wasn't working and I decided that I should make it work. Well, it worked, but not as well as I wanted, so I'll have lots of things to do on Monday about it.

Later I went for dinner. As I had lunch at home and I didn't have many other options, to celebrate the fact that I actually worked, I decided to treat myself to a nice restaurant. So I went to a place called "Café Juanita", an Italian restaurant. Well, for you to understand how much I was treating myself, they even had a Vallet at the door (not too common around here). The food was great! I had a penne pasta cooked on parchment paper with pine nuts, peppers and cheese. Wine and dessert (a chocolate trufle with red wine poached pears and a anise candided something (I'm not sure what it was)). Very good, but I'm still too full.

I came home and decided that I was too full to work, so I got the movie that I rented yesterday and put in the DVD player: Manchurian Candidate. Yes, it's little old, but there are too many movies that I haven't had time to watch. Unfortunately it was a very disappointing movie. Oh, the corporation wants to control the US through politics. Add to that a touch of "crazy people sometimes are not that crazy" and "soldiers are important" and there you have the movie. Nothing to learn from it.

Well, if I compare to the movie I watched yesterday (that I rented with this one), "Pandora Machine", it's a tough call. As I knew Pandora Machine was going to be bad, I think it was actually a little better than my expectations. But I heard some good things about Manchurian Candidate, so it was much below my expectations. If I compare both side by side it becomes much more difficult to tell. Sure "Pandora Machine" probably had the budget of about 2 minutes of the Manchurian Candidate, but if you compare storylines, both are very bad. "Pandora Machine" is about the world in the future when some very strange murders are going on and the privatized police is trying to find out what is going on.

Almost the whole movie is shown through the eyes of the security cameras that are spread around the whole city, so they are very strange camera angles with lots of glitches and things like that. Interesting, but annoying. Then it takes some very bizarre turns, in which the partner of the main policeman suddenly is found to be an android that is becoming sentient, but has to be destroyed or else it will destroy the whole human race (she was the "Pandora Machine"). The strange thing is that she has no role whatsoever in anything until she starts to become dizzy and faint (signs of sentience). At the same time, the killer is another sentient machine that is in love with the main character and saves him from time to time. And they have met before when he was serving the army in a war many years before. No sense whatsoever.

Oh, well, see, I do things! I try to keep myself busy!

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The empty apartment

That's how my apartment feels like right now. It actually feels more like the messy empty apartment... Waking up and going to a living room that doesn't have a bed any more, having breakfast without having to worry about having everybody awake, it feels a little strange. A little sad. But I'm sure this weird feeling will disappear pretty quickly.

Onto a lighter subject: Blockbuster here decided to make a bold move and end late fees. This seems like a strange thing, especially because when you rent something you still get "due dates". I was confused on how it actually worked, so I asked the person at the cashier and he explained the catch: there are no "real" late fees. If you don't return the movie by the date you were supposed to, you get a 7-day grace period. On the 8th day they consider as if you bought the movie, so they charge you the movie price (something like $20). If you return the movie within 30 days, they credit your account again with the movie price, minus a "restock fee" (to charge you for buying the movie back from you). After 30 days you can't return it any more.

Officially now there are actually no late fees, but there are catches to everything. It looks like, right now, that the only great difference is that they effectively increased all rental periods by 7 days. However, they say that they will note in your account if you return it by the due date and this might be used later for some kind of promotion, who knows? Anyway, I'm not a big movie renter anyway. I just thought it was an interesting move.

What I'm really interested in knowing more about, actually, is the on-demand TV that I have. I can "ask for a movie" for about the same price as renting it. The selection is limited, but who knows what will happen when people get used to this technology. Cable suddenly will become pretty expensive to have!

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Getting ready...

It's the last evening my parents will be here, so starting tomorrow my apartment will become huge again. Huge and empty... My life will become easier, though. Easier and lonelier. But there are good things to it. I can have my "social life" again, I can work on my research again, I can just do nothing if I want to. I'm not complaining about my family's visit. It was great! I learned things about Seattle that I wouldn't for a long time being alone. I went skiing, I have a TV, a printer, and two more pijamas (I think my family thinks the only thing I do is to sleep).

Anyway, I have to go to sleep now. I have a very long day ahead... Driving to the airport, running to get to a meeting at 9:30 am and another at 10 am, then working everything I just wasn't able to work, because I had to get back home early. This seems kind of wrong, but when you say you are getting a lot done, but you don't sometimes it's necessary to "break the healthy rules". Just for a short while, I promise.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

New year, new activities

Wow, I haven't posted anything since last year.... What a terrible blogger I am! :-)

Anyway, my new year has been interesting so far. Yesterday I went skiing for the first time in my life. And it was actually fun! I didn't fall (although I did almost fall a couple of times) and I was starting to get confortable with it. However it was tiring. You have to wear a boot that forces you always to kind of squat all the time, and this boot and the skis are heavy. Interestingly, I am not all sore today!

Sure it required a 2 hour drive to the ski station (we went to a place called Crystal Mountain) and US$40 per person for rental, pass to the easy slope and a 2-hour class... It also required clothes that I didn't have, so I did suffer a little because I was wearing jeans, no ski glasses, and no ski gloves. But I survived and I'm happy that I did something new in this new year! Oh, and my car got to know what snow is...

I'm not sure what we are doing today yet, but hopefully it will continue to be something new.