Snow adventures

February 10th, 2014

Yesterday there was the biggest snowstorm in the last twenty years in Kanto, and I was caught right in the middle of it. This is a short report of my 36 hour adventure.

My father and his son were visiting me for two weeks, and supposed to leave on the Saturday. It dawned a snowy morning, and maybe much of this would have been averted if I had checked the weather forecast beforehand, but that is spilled milk.

We had a nice lunch in Tsukuba, and got on the bus to the airport. It was snowing quite a bit. During the ride, my dad’s wife called, warning that the flight had been canceled. Since we were already midway to the airport, I decided not to worry about it until we got there.

At the airport, the company changed my dad’s flight to another leaving at the same time. I thought it was settled. We waited a bit, said our goodbyes at the security gate, and I headed to the return train.

That was when the troubles started piling up.

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A Link To The Past 2

January 19th, 2014

Felipe was playing a zelda game in his 3DS, and while watching him play, I had this nagging deja-vu like feeing:

- That map you’re playing, It reminds me a lot of LttP.

- Yes! It is because this is Link to the past 2!

I knew that nintendo had released a new Zelda, but I didnt realize it was the continuation of one of my childhood’s favorite games (and my first SNES title). I guess I know what is next in my to-play list.

Talking about to-play games, the latest Humble Bundle has a suberb collection. To The Moon was a fantastic game. The story is really interesting, and should make you stop and reflect about your own life. Some people complain that this game has too little “game” in it, but in my opinion, maybe it has too much. Or too put in a better way, the few game-like elements were a bit disconnected from the narrative, which felt distracting sometimes. But overall it was worth it.

I wonder if I would change my memories before death. I feel more like I would just like to let someone else experience them – a bit “speaker for the dead” style.

Also the bundle has Surgeon Simulator 2013 and Reus, two fun games. The others I havent played yet.


December 2nd, 2013

This past two weekends I took some university students for programming contests in Japan and Taiwan. After two heavy weekends, the first thing they were doing once they were back in the train back home was to check the upcoming local contests.

I have always prided myself on having a wide variety of hobbies and interests. But that comes at a price that I am not particularly good at any of them. I will easily climb the first few steps of the learning curve, but I rarely commit the time or resources necessary when the difficulty becomes steep. Instead I move on to the next interesting thing.

Of course, this means that I am never completely lost towards new situations, and I fell I have the ability to pick up a new skill relatively quickly. On the other hand, when I am among people who dedicate themselves to some kind of task, I also fel that I often fall behind quickly.

A runner of difficulty curves, not a climber. I was wondering this weekend if this “jack of all trades” attitude was really the way to go.

High school level research

September 7th, 2013

Yesterday I gave an invited lecture to a local high school on Artificial Intelligence. After the lecture, three students came to ask me if it was possible to make a robot that would love a human.

That was not the only question, of course. I was asked about robot emotions, robot animals, flying robots, etc. One student asked my favorite SF books, which made me quite happy. The most “technical” question came from a student who asked me to detail how AI is used to detect spam mail.

These students reminded me why I started to study CS, artificial intelligence, and genetic algorithms in the first place. Robotics was for my generation what the Space Race was for the previous one. My first PhD proposal was on trying to teach robots to learn from the example of other robots, using ants and children as inspiration.

Since entering academia (even though I’m still strictly on the kid’s side of that pool), I’ve been bombarded from all sides with “grown up” talk. Scientific rigour, chinese rooms, mathematical correctness, publish or perish, statistical models, tenure committees, patents, liabilities, reviews, peer reviews, proper academic writing style, critical thinking, no free lunch, practical applications, etc etc.

Most of these concepts are important, some critically so. Still none of it was what put me where I am today. And none of it will bring those kids into the fold.

Recently I’ve been feeling disheartened with research in general. That might be because it has been a long time since I let myself consider my SF daydreams as legitimate research ideas. The other day I was thinking about a Shadowrun-lile PAN controlled by intelligent agents. I immediatelly filled it in as a “personal project”. Why not as a research subject? Because it didnt fit the mold I had made for “worthy of proper scientific investigation”.

That is bullshit. And up until now, it had influenced the way that I thought about my research work. As the high school kids asked me about flying robots and loving robots, I asked myself – why did I just spend 15 minutes in my talk explaining the difference between Weak and Strong AI? Why didn’t I just talk about this instead? When I told them about my favorite GA anedocte, he literally braced himself against a table in excitement.

Next time I give a High School talk, the title won’t be “Introduction to AI research”, it will be “Why I fuckin love AI”.

Maybe my next academic research plan should have the same title.

Up until now.

September 3rd, 2013

I had a memorable incident when I was doing my first master degree, back in Brazil. I had just returned from my first one year trip to Japan. I had lost the thread of my masters work, and was way behind schedule.

Because I had nothing to show for my one year exchange, I was avoiding meeting my advisor. I spent three months at home, afraid to meet him empty handed, but also somehow unable to get on to work.

Eventually, he sent me an e-mail asking me if I was still in Japan – he knew I wasn’t. We scheduled a meeting. I told him at the meeting that I was ashamed of meeting him empty handed. He told me that he understood that, but that not meeting him would not make the shame go away, and now that we were back together we could plan things up and get things done. And so we did.

Here I would like to say that I never forgot what he told me that time. But while I have certainly improved regarding facing people when my tasks are behind schedule, I nonetheless still hide from myself when I feel I am not living up to my own expectations… Up until now.

For the past few months I have been talking to a life coach – I have been particularly bothered with productivity issues in the past year, and was looking for help. Today she was telling me of the effects of a negative mindset – how we can get on a depressive feedback loop when we punish our failures while not rewarding our successes. It was a more “source level” version of the same talk I had with my advisor, all those years ago.

We discussed some strategies to deal with this problem. One of them was identifying my negative self assessments, and postfixing these thoughts with “up until now”. The idea here, l think, is to reshape your thought state from a judgemental, passive state, to a action-planning, active mode.

How that will work for me is anyone’s guess, but it is definitely worth a shot. I think one of the first steps is to make explicit the goal state that I want to reach – my current ideal self image. I have a good idea of what that is, but I have been rambly enough, so that will go on my next post.

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"Just because your idea of philosophy is something to talk about while you're smoking pot, doesn't mean that's all there is to it."