Sunday, June 28, 2009

USA vs. Brazil

Tonight was a surprise treat as we got to watch the USA men's soccer team play in the finals of a major international competition, the Confederations Cup. Getting to the finals required a few semi-miracles including beating Egypt 3-0 when we needed a three-goal win and beating Spain, defending European championships. For the finals we were matched against Brazil, and were widely expected to be rolled over.

A big group of us watched on the big screen at the MCR bar and tried to get the USA pride going. It seemed to work quite well in the first half, the US took a shocking 2-0 lead and looked like they might pull it out although Brazil was dominating much of the game. In the second half, Brazil just had too many scoring chances and came back to win 3-2. I've been surprised at how little soccer I've watched since coming here, but I can still get quite into the international matches. Tough loss for the USA but I was proud of the effort.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Spent the week in London at the Workshop on the Economics of Information Security, at University College London. The conference included economists and computer security people, looking at the economic factors of security problems. I presented my research on the economics of privacy in social networks.

The conference dinner was a highlight, we had a talk from Paul Wilson who is a famous scam artist with his own show on the BBC. Overall though, this was a business trip, I was busy and tired throughout and I didn't spend any time in London sightseeing. So I feel like I'm slipping into a more professional role at work, but I still very much enjoyed the conference and learned a lot, and it helps that I'm starting to see the same people over and over at conferences so there are friendly faces.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

June Feast

There are a lot of formal dinners in Cambridge, and each college holds June Feast is the longest and most formal of all. Like many things in Cambridge I didn't know what to expect until attending, but I found out it's hard just to get invited. I got invited because of my talk to the college on Internet censorship. This is the only event all year in Cambridge which requires a robe, it is also black-tie. The meal was unbelievably long, something like 4 hours and 7 courses.

It was the only dinner I've ever been to with an intermission. That's right, halfway through the dinner they rang a bell, everybody got up and went out of the dining hall and mingled in the Churchill Archives where the college had its most valuable possessions on display. Then we came back in and there were new, different assigned seats than the originals. I actually kind of liked this because I got seated next to twice as many strangers that way. Still not a fan at all of the long, rectangular tables when it comes to Cambridge, but they've probably been holding June Feasts for centuries like this so I doubt my complaints will get very far.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pembroke May Ball

I got the opportunity on short notice to go to a second May Ball for free, Pembroke. I went with the Churchill Casino and worked for half the night and was off the other half to experience the ball. Churchill Casino is a service put on by our colleges for local events, we run a casino room with roulette, craps, blackjack, and poker. During May Ball season the casino is in high demand and shows up at many of the balls and it's a nice way to get to go to a ball for free.

Pembroke's ball was very nice, but after going to three balls (including Churchill's in February) they definitely start to run together.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Clare May Ball

I mentioned previously my experience at Churchill's Spring Ball. Now (in mid June) it is the real May Week as undergrads have finished final exams and there is a week of celebrations and parties to wrap up the academic year. Many of the colleges, including most of the big ones, hold May Balls this week, which are a bit hard to describe but are essentially like a mixture of a wedding, a royal ball, and the US concept of "Grad Night" after high school graduations. They key ingredients are black tie dress, tons of live music and unlimited food/drink, activities, and shows, lasting until 6 am. Here I am posing with Jess, my date to the Clare May Ball, with the river cam in the background.

We went with a small group, as seen above, and the first part of a ball is, per tradition, queuing, although it started raining this year during the queuing and people got a bit testy. Once inside they had an admirable collection of free food and lots of musical acts, plus some nice activities we tried like a giant swing set, fire dancers, ballroom dancing lessons, ceilidh dancing, and punting on the river cam. There was also a spectacular fireworks show, although it was put on by Trinity's ball which was going on right next door, but everybody still stopped and watched.

The nicest part was probably the beautiful location at Clare, which is one of the nicest colleges and probably has the best gardens. You can see above us relaxing in the Clare Gardens, lit up in many beautiful colors for the night, they turned this section into a hookah bar. Not for me, but I enjoyed the setting a lot. I enjoyed the ball as well, it was nice to get to go to at least one to see what the tradition is all about. Some friends go to 3 or 4 balls throughout the week, which is quite impressive as they cost over 100 pounds each and last from about 9 pm until 6 am. I was satisfied just fine with Clare for this year.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Security and Human Behavior in Boston

Spent the last week in Boston, attending a conference on Security and Human Behavior at MIT. It was organized by my supervisor (Ross Anderson). The event brought together people from different fields studying security, deception, fraud, and conflict. There were philosophers, engineers, psychologists, and policymakers. It was a very innovative conference, both for being cross-disciplinary and that everybody's talk was limited to 10 minutes. I liked that, speakers rarely get across more than 10 minutes of info that anybody remembers.

I gave a brief talk on social networks. I was probably the most junior person there but I tried to soak it all in, I had some great chats during the breaks and meals. I also got one day to cruise around Boston, which I spent re-visiting the main sites downtown. The conference certainly got me excited about the breadth of topics in security and psychology going forward, but also made me realize I am new to the field and have a lot of work ahead of me.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


I've been working pretty hard recently so I took the chance to take the weekend in Paris. One of the perks of being in Cambridge, you can get on the train and be in Paris in just a few hours, walking around gardens like this:

It was a fantastic weekend away. I've been to Paris a few times now but every time I go, I seem only to realise that there is more to the city than I previously thought and it will take many more visits to really see it all. Among other sites, in two and a half days in Paris I saw the Sacré Coeur Basilica, Sainte-Chapelle, Notre Dame, Modern Art Museum at the Centre Pompidou, the Champs-Elysées and Arc de Triomphe, the Catacombs, the zoo and natural history musem ad the Jardins Des Plantes, the Arènes de Lutèce, the Grand Mosque of Paris, the Eiffel Tower, and the Hôtel des Invalides.

I'll just mention two things that sum the trip up. Above is the Arènes de Lutèce, a small Roman Amphitheatre that was built sometime in the 1st Century AD. It's a pretty amazing archaeological site, beautifully nestled in the city amongst some greenery, and it barely shows up on most guidebooks. People there were playing pétanque (bocce), there is so much in Paris that a 2000-year old amphitheatre just blends in.

The other thing was the Eiffel Tower. I've been up it before and figured there wasn't much more to see, like Paris itself you hear about it so much it seems like an overhyped tourist attraction. But in re-visiting the tower, I was completely struck both by how beautiful the tower is in person and how incredible the engineering is.

There's a reason Paris is so famous. It's an amazing place.

Here's a photo of me and Jess, my travel partner for the weekend. I'm quite tired on the return but it was an amazing weekend.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Gates Annual Dinner

Today was the annual dinner for all the Gates Scholars. That means time to assemble everybody in dressy clothes and take a photo:

Then we had a lengthy formal dinner at Wolfson College. It was a fun event, we also had a speech from Bill Gates Senior. Bill Gates Junior will be meeting the scholars next week but I will have to miss that as I head to Boston.