Two weeks of traveling

Last week I was in CEC, in Sendai. The week before that I was in the ICPC world finals, in Morocco. It was nice leaving Tsukuba for a while. The World Finals went better than I expected. The transportation to and from the airport, which I was worried about, was quite smooth. Arriving at the location, everything was inside the same resort, so we could go everywhere on foot. Food could have a bit more variety in it, but it was quite fine. As for the competition itself, the Tsukuba team did well enough -- although I'm sure we can do better in the future (I have to work on my coach skills, though!)
A glimpse of the competition floor
A glimpse of the competition floor
CEC was a mixed bag. Sendai is a beautiful city, and the weather helped. I got to meet a bunch of interesting people, and realized that AI for Games academic community is bigger and more active than I imagined. I should really be putting some extra effort in that. I also got to do a bit of Geocaching. On the other hand, most presentations were rather weak, and my own presentation had almost no viewers, which made me quite sad. The hotel where I stayed (APA Hotel) was apparently owned by some right wing nut who filled the rooms with his self published books about how Japan "just wanted to unite all asia in equality"... yeah sure.
Right wing revisionist bull :-P
History Revisionism at its finest
The worst thing is that I went in planning to use the time away from work to catch up with my backlog: Prepare classes, read up on papers, etc. Of course, the monkey was stronger and that did not happen. During the ICPC trip, I spent most of my time re-reading Worm which, to be frank, is a hell of a good read, but reading it AGAIN was definitely not on my priority list. During the CEC trip, I did manage to prepare a bit for my classes, but I also spent most of my time reading "The Reluctant Swordsman", which was a decent read. And now I'm back home with 300 messages in my work inbox T_T Well enjoy the links, and see you on the other side!


Some of you might have heard that GrooveShark was killed. It seems that grooveshark lost a dispute with the infamous RIAA, and as a result had to hand them over all their assets. That sucks. But I think I have already found a good replacement. Enter Rainwave. I used grooveshark mostly for browsing playlists of game songs, and rainwave is a streaming site of game musics and remixes. Most of the musics seems to be very well done game-like remixes, which means that not only I will be supporting people loving their craft, this one is unlikely to go away anytime soon. Vila the Mix tape!

The Singularity is passing by me

This past week I have been doing a lot of introspecting about my self-dissatisfaction. Sometimes I evaluated what I have been doing with my life, sometimes I just wallow in self pity, sometimes I even delete games from my computer and draw strategies to turn everything right starting this very moment. It has been a wild ride. An acquittance in Facebook linked the blog "Wait but What", and I have devoured quite a few of their articles this weekend. The ones about procastination were very good, but what I wanted to talk about was the one about "The AI Revolution". Going back for a second to the Procastination article, it talks, among other things, about how we have to define what is "Important but not urgent". These are things that make us grow, make us be what we want to be. And in my confused state of trying to self-correct, I realized that for quite a while, a few months, maybe a few years, I lost track of what I am aiming for in my life. Not that I am lost in terms of short term important goals. I have plenty of those. I honestly like my job, and I am in a five four year race to prove my worth to remain in this job. The pressure is terrifying. But why am I here? When I entered college in Computer Science, I had read enough Asimov books to realize that AI and computers were really cool. But as I learned about programming in college, the dream formed in my mind to be one of the people to solve artificial intelligence. My original Master degree project was to create an intelligent system that could adapt itself around damage (think the terminator crawling out of the foundry with only the upper half of his body. I actually used that image in my work). My original PhD proposal was a "parent-children" teaching system to investigate the possibility of crowds of agents where older self-learning agents could give part of their knowledge to newer self learning agents. Let's not talk about how either of these projects ended up. At that time, I read Minsky, I read pinker, I read hofstader. I even attended a talk by Minsky once. I learned about evolutionary algorithms, and fell in love - this was the natural way to develop an intelligent machine, or so I thought at the time. Somewhere along the way I started looking down while I walked. I started taking shortcuts. My wildest dreams started breaking down, and I was publishing "5% more efficient" papers, and I started getting cynical. Suddenly it was all statistics, and Machine learning, and very sensible modeling projects that people do when they are walking while looking at the ground to avoid tripping into stones along the way. I even heard about the Singularity guys, and secured myself in the sense that these people had too much free time in their hands, and should be worried about actual problems in the world such as inequality and hate, hunger and disease. Not that my 5% better machine learning modeling papers were doing anything to solve those problems either. But hey, complaining is easy. I want to wonder again. Maybe AGI, maybe space exploration. If I can set my sights on these things in a realistic manner, then maybe I can be in my dream job, doing my dream work. If I could only tame that damn monkey once and for all. (for the record, I am not worried about an "unfriendly AI". Maybe I'm being egoist and short-sighted, but the thought of humanity being able to create a being that can transcend its creators is something so awesome that I don't really mind if the price is the end of our species)

Mental fat, part 2

When i was in high school, I remember a weekend when I solved 300 physics problems to study for the university entrance examination. In the first presentation of my master degree, I had a thick stack of papers that I had referenced in a few weeks in order to prepare for it. Somehow, I feel like I cant find this flame anymore. I try to tackle project upon project, each more interesting than the previous ones. Earthquakes, cancer, geology, game making. All of this has passed, is passing through my desk, and I am feeling to sluggish to tackle any of these. I feel like Im hiding behind a huge pile and of tasks, and using this tasklist as an excuse to suck at everything. Today I found this extremely cool blog from a guy who is doing a dozen of programming projects at the same time, and it made me feel extremely inadequate. I am not putting in the effort, and it is starting to show. Realizing all of this this morning, I promised myself that, starting now, things would change. I would start putting the effort. I managed to break that promise within 2 hours. Must be some sort of world record.

Recurring characters

Every morning I meet the talky guy. He is a young man who talks to himself while riding on the train. Sometimes he sings. Today he asked a lady with a baby to remove a string from his shoe. Unfortunately, she did not have a scissors, but she was nice to him. Sometimes I also meet two girl pals. They must be in Junior High. They are almost never in school uniform, but always talking about school. They meet at an intermediate station and ride the rest of the line together. Last time I met them they were discussing their English tests. The last NPC I always meet is the english toddler. She is a cute kid who always talks to her dad in English. As far as I can tell, her father is Japanese, but of course I have no way of knowing for sure. One day a friend of hers got in the train as well. Two things come to my mind about these characters. On one hand, it is surprising that after riding every day on this line at the same time every day, these are the only people thatt I can clearly recognize. I should spend less time on the cellphone. I also remember how I sometimes feel like an NPC tomy students, and I wonder how do they observe me as an NPC. I also think about how my perception of the characters above differs from their everyday perceptions of themselves. Empathy is really really important. Finally, I wonder if blogging on the train can become a thing for me.

Proceed! Proceed?

I have moved to a new apartment in Japan. The name of the apartment is プロシード TX, which would be equivalent to "Proceed TX". TX is the Tsukuba Express line, which I use to go to work every day. I think this is probably the weirdest piece of "Engrish" that I have ever seen. Japan is famous for some using English words in unique ways, such as "Salaryman" for office worker, or "Mansion" for apartment complex (maybe that one is a French borrowed word?). But as much as I try to think about it, I can't figure out what "Proceed" is supposed to mean. Google was no help, I couldn't find any relationship between "Proceed" and architecture. It is a mistery!

Bad weekend

I have two papers that I am preparing for the CEC2015 conference. The deadline is on the 18th (two weeks from now). While (most of) the experiments are all done, the writing of the papers is pretty much in the beginning. Because of my current "publish or perish" situation, I decided that this weekend I would finally forego my first Ludum Dare . I have participated in every LD since LD23, but I couldn't really find the energy to do this one, and I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that I should be writing my papers instead. In the end, though, I did neither. I did not join LD, and I didn't do any significant progress with paper writing. And I was left feeling terrible about it. To make up a tiny bit for it, I managed to at least cobble together an outline for one of the papers, and I updated my blog. Keep trucking on.

Burning Blood, and passion for making things.

This weekend, I went to a live house in Roppongi to see "Burning Blood" play. BB is a cover band composed by Ayako's friends.
Burning Blood!
If you ask me what songs they played, I kinda remember one which I think was called "bad medicine". I suck at music. But I loved the performance. I suck at music. Back in undergrad, I would often go to theater and a capella live performances. When I worked in Rio de Janeiro, my supervisor invited me almost every month to a local Jazz show. My favorite games nowadays are indie titles. There is something about watching live performances that fills me with energy. When I was at that rock show last weekend, I couldn't recognize any of the songs, but a flood of ideas would come to my head as I watched these people play. I felt like I wanted to sit down there and then, and start making games. I feel very guilty saying that by the time I got home, that fire had died down to an ember. I need to make a bigger effort...

5th Edition game, Game Report II!

Last week our RPG group played the third session on our DnD 5th edition campain. You can see the previous Game Report here. Our first two sessions were an "introductory" adventure in a small hand-made dungeon. Now that the characters have survived their baptism by fire by undeads, we have decided to move on to the published adventures "Lost Mines of Phandelver" and "Hoard of the Dragon Queen".
Goblin art from the DnD Starter Set. Linked from
Since both modules start the characters from level one, I've decided to make some changes in order to be able to play them in sequence. Most of these ideas I took from reading the DnDNext subreddit and the "Hack & Slash" blog. I'll post these changes as they show up in the game to avoid spoilers, but for now it is enough to say that Phandelin was moved south of Baldur's gate, and much closer to Greenest. The group was travelling down the trade route south of Baldurs Gate. They heard reports of many caravans being assaulted by goblins, and a few sightings of a strange new cult, and wanted to investigate first hand by themselves. They come across the remains of a recent attack - dead horses and humans in an ambush site just under a small hill. This was the opening scene of LMoP. I have replaced the dwarf NPC (who has been kidnapped already for a few weeks in my game), with a PC who was joining the party that night. This PC happened to be a Human thief with Alertness and expertise in Perception, giving her a whooping 20 passive perception at first level! I'll make sure to take note of that build when making NPCs in the future (Of course, a master human scout is still shut down by a dark room). The group stormed through the Cragmaw hideout - clever use of darkness alongside with good perceptions and sneaking rolls meant that the goblins never saw what hit them. By the end of the adventure they handly defeated Klaargh the Bugbear and his cronies -- but hadn't found Sildar Hallwinter yet (who in this game was a mentor for the thief character). I'm realling liking this 5th edition sessions - combat is streamlined and run as a breeze. I need to play my opponents a bit more intelligently -- I completely forgot about Klaargs escape route in the heat of battle. But maybe it is a good idea to roleplay the goblins as dumb creatures, in order to make the contrast with human enemies more stark. Next game: finishing cleaning up cragmaw hideout, and then doing the Pandelin Missions.