Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The power of learning

When I finished my Ph.D., something changed in me and it took me all this time until this last weekend to realize it. I was tired of learning, I was tired of expanding my knowledge into new and exciting areas. I felt like it was time for me to apply what I've learned into something productive.

No, it's not that I didn't learn in the process, it's not that every day I haven't really learned anything new, it is just that I had lost the desire to learn. I had lost the wish to stay up until late at night reading papers, reading books, studying a new score, talking to new people. I put myself inside a hole and decided that I was going to build a way out using my own limbs.

What changed this was something very simple: I was home alone in the weekend and looked at an IEEE Transactions on Knowledge and Data Engineering and decided to go through it. Suddenly I found an article that seemed kind of interesting, "Fast and Memory Efficient Mining of Frequent Closed Itemsets" by C. Lucchese, S. Orlando and R. Perego. It's not an extremely well-written article, but it contains some interesting aspects that I was always searching for during my research: namely memory efficient algorithms for data mining.

Suddenly, when I realized, I was reading the whole issue, and looking for past issues, searching the internet, digging and learning. Not only that, I looked at my clarinet and when I realized I was playing! Terribly, but nevertheless I took my clarinet out of the box and played around with it for about 30-40 minutes until my embouchure couldn't me maintained any more. My neighbors must hate me now, but I was happy.

I realized that I suddenly was getting interested in reading the news, analyzing how business was doing, and this wasn't really making me grow in any way. Business is plain boring. Companies go up and down, bigger companies buy smaller companies, and nothing really new happens. Non-business news is the same thing. Wars, people claiming that other people are wrong, accidents, deaths, stupid people going to jail for silly things... Also nothing really exciting.

So I guess I'm a researcher and that's what I'll always be. Surely I'm not a very good one for many reasons, but it's what keeps me excited.

Some people right now might be thinking: but what about your job? Are you leaving your job and going back to academics? Actually this idea didn't even cross my mind (well, it did, or else I wouldn't have written it here, but not in this way). I'm very happy with my job. It keeps me entertained and focused on the difficulties that exist in the world. It gives me the challenges, but I'm the one that should look for the solutions.

But now I should try and get some sleep and stop getting people worried.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Banks and money

So today, like many days, I receive a check on the mail. It was a $10 check by Chase saying that if I cash the check I'll be automatically enrolled to their 2% cashback deal. Then you start to read the details of the deal:

2% cashback in the first $5000 of the year, or up to $100 per year.

Then you have to go and dig for the cost of it... Only $11.99 a month!

WAIT! $11.99 a month for a whole year is more than then potential $100 that you can make a year! Or did I just forget all my math???

Actually there is a "benefit": special deals with companies that might give you up to $500 in discounts a year! Sure, if you decide to buy all the merchandize they offer you, like a couple of watches, pens, this great odorizer that you put in your car, auto-adjusting sunglasses... Only high-tech stuff that everybody needs to buy! You also get a couple of cupons worth $40! So, in a way, you end up making almost $500 a year! What a deal!

Anyway, I'm just a little bitter today. Work has been very tiring. Just as a baseline: it's Wednesday and I have already worked about 50 hours this week. Sure, I've done much worse in my life, but what worries me is that things are still far from over. I still expect to be at work until late for the rest of the week and into the weekend.

Alright, time for me to get some things done here before heading to bed.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Coincidence of common names

Today my cell phone rang with a 405 number (Oklahoma). I didn't recognize the number, but I answered it anyway. Here is a transcript of the conversation:

- Hello?
- Hi... Michael?
- Yes?
- Is Amy there?
- No... She is not here...
- Oh, is this the (a name I won't write down)'s residence?
- No...
- Oh, I'm sorry, I must have dialed the wrong number.

Yes, that proves that both Michael and Amy are very common names. I think my name should be Michel from now on.

The pain of statistics

Yesterday was my first choir concert with the Cascadian Chorale and, just like my first big choir concert I had in Brazil (Mendelssohn's Elijah), I got sick just the day before the concert. At least this time was much milder than the one in Brazil, when I had a very high fever and I can say I don't remember much of that concert. I have a cold, my second one this season.

This actually got me a little worried. I rarely get sick, about maybe once a year if that much, and why did I get sick twice this year - even after I, for the first time in my life, took a flu shot? Well, suddenly my statistics neurons fired and gave me the answer: if your chance of being sick each year is about 50%, the chance of you getting sick more than once a year is still quite high. If you model it as a random process where the probability of being sick each month is 1/12, the probability that you will be sick at least twice a year is about 25% (you get the same result if you model it as a Poisson distribution - but I thought it would be easier to understand in the normal probability way)

The concert itself was quite interesting. I had about 70% of my voice, so I could still contribute some. There was only one big issue with the concert, as a concept: we only have one 2 1/2 hour rehearsal a week, and there is a limited amount of things you can rehearse this way. So we end up going through a lot of material in the beginning and then focusing the rehearsals on things that are supposed to be more challenging. Problem is that when we get to the day of the concert, we are asked to remember pieces we haven't sung in the choir for more than a month! And they were in Latvian, Catalan, Mongolian, Estonian... While melody and harmony wasn't that difficult to remember, the text was a whole other story. But it all ended up fine. We can always use the fact that you can't really understand the text sung by a choir.

Now I'm just sitting on my couch, listening to some music and thinking what I should do for the day. I'm trying not to do much, but I just can't stay on here the whole time. Maybe I'll bundle up and go for a walk soon, try to breathe some fresh (and cold) air.

Oh, yes, talking about cold air, we had our first day of snow here! But it was just too warm outside, so there was no snow on the ground... We had what is called "white rain". It's been pretty close to freezing in the last couple of weeks.

Alright, back to trying to do something that doesn't require my brain to function.