Archive for May, 2008

Biking SF, in pictures

Megan and I went on an all-day bicycle-based exploration of San Francisco.

cut for large pictures

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Planning frustrations

[EDIT]: I recently realized I can summarize this whole post with the following sentence: If you enjoy planning trips, you’re not planning thoroughly enough, since putting in more effort now will pay off when you’re actually traveling.

My mother and sister seem to view trip planning as an enjoyable sort of thing. I find it rather stressful, and it gives me that sinking feeling I get when, say, I do my taxes. Perhaps they’re not thinking about all the stuff you need to worry about when planning a group vacation.


  • You must optimize what the other 3 people will find interesting.
  • You must optimize travel distances.
  • You must optimize cost. This is especially important because you’re committing other people to spend their money too.
  • You must have not only enough plans to fill a day (which is about 4 activities by my calculation, since the afternoon has room for 2 several-hour activities), but also alternate plans.
  • You should also plan for food; it’s not that those plans won’t likely change, it’s just that being stuck somewhere without food will suck.
  • You probably ought to get directions in advance, since you’ll be traveling around a foreign country where they speak a language you don’t understand.
  • You can’t just do fun things, since, to be honest, most fun things you can do at home. No, the only way traveling abroad is worthwhile is if you’re doing things you can only do abroad, such as visiting ruins and local museums.
  • But at the same time, you don’t want to do more ruins, since you know that the trip will be filled with ruins and castles and the like.
  • If you fail at any of these things, the result will be one of the following disasters:
  • You get lost and waste a huge amount of time, getting everyone frustrated and cranky.
  • You run out of plans, or your plans were badly-formed and so can’t be completed, so instead you’re forced to come up with something to do on the spot. This will surely be expensive (tourist prices) and chancy.
  • People will be bored and disappointed, which really spoils the point of a vacation.

Furthermore, the things I enjoy doing can mostly be done at home, and aren’t worth doing abroad. Playing any sort of game? It would be damn silly to pay O($1000) to go to a foreign country to play a game you could play at home.

Plus, you simply know that every plan you make will be bad for someone.

I find the whole thing entirely frustrating, and I have my usual reaction to such things: it makes me want to curl up and go to sleep. But having other people tell me that I ought to be enjoying this? It makes me want to write long diatribe posts like this one.



Published pigs!

I’ve got a paper published in ICML 2008! You already know that, because I was already excited about going to Finland. But the final revision of the paper is finally complete and submitted to the conference, so I’ve put it up on my website, which you can see here. Yes, that means that my guinea pigs are now recorded for posterity in an academic conference.

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Life is hard

Slashdot linked to this article, an interesting take on the possibility of finding life on Mars by Nick Bostrom. What I’m most struck by is that his thinking is much like mine, but he takes the reasoning another step. An AI researcher would be proud, though: he uses good, probabilistic reasoning.

His main point is that because SETI has never found any signs of intelligent life, there’s probably some evolutionary step that’s improbable. Not just unlikely, but so terribly unlikely that it’s got only a one-in-a-billion chance of happening on any given planet. With odds like that, it would be easy to see why there are no other civilizations broadcasting radio waves into space–we were simply outrageously lucky to be here at all. He calls this unlikely event the “Great Filter”.

Nick puts forward the two obvious candidates for his Great Filter: the two evolutionary advances that took the longest time to occur. They are the origin of the first unicellular life (which admittedly sounds unlikely, right?) and the transition from prokaryotes (cells like bacteria, which don’t have all the complicated structure ours do, such as nuclei and mitochondria) to eukaryotes (which are much like ours). Eukaryotes took about 1.8 billion years to evolve–that’s an outrageously long time. But it happening even that fast might be unlikely. What if the average time that step takes to happen is a trillion years? Then we’re very lucky, and we’re unlikely to have neighbors.

So, that’s the sort of thing that had already occurred to me (and indeed, that I pontificated on to Megan not so long ago). But Nick takes that reasoning farther than I did–you should read the article to find out how.

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