Saturday, January 30, 2010


I just returned from a week in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain where I attended the 2010 Conference on Financial Cryptography and Data Security. Sounds pretty sophisticated, in reality it's a nice academic conference that gets very good funding from a few banks and is in a different tropical locale every winter. I gave a talk on presenting my paper on guessing statistics for personal knowledge questions.
Tenerife certainly fits the bill. This beach was about 200 m from the conference room. I was able to go swimming most days after the presentations ended, I also did some climbing on the rocks in the left of this picture and jumped off them into the water, which was cold but very refreshing.
It was a serious conference, but with a very upbeat and fun vibe. On Tuesday evening they had a session for impromptu talks on work in progress with the traditional unlimited rum from the conference's Caribbean origins. I mistakenly gave a serious talk about online protest, with a mixed reaction, though I did work a few off-color jokes in.

The island itself is surprisingly large and has very interesting geography due to its volcanic origins. This peak here is El Teide-at 3,715 m it's actually (by a good margin) the tallest peak in "Spain," though geographically quite far from the mainland.

Didn't get to go to the very top-although they have a cable car to take you there-but I had lots of fun climbing around the various smaller rock formations formed  decades ago from huge hunks of lava being thrown from the peak.
The island also has a fascinating history. The Spaniards have been there for quite some time and built some very nice villages in the hills, like this one, La Laguna.

Walking around there are dozens of open-courtyard homes like this one with beautiful gardens built by the old nobility. It's enough to have earned UNESCO world heritage status for the town, which they are happy to remind you of as they try to sell some of the local fare-a fortified wine called Presos Canarias and rum-laden honey.

Much of the island feels pretty touristy, which it is, as a major destination for Germans and Brits. I didn't feel like I got a very good impression of the local scene, but I did get the biggest pizza I've ever seen served to me, which I was unable to finish.

Still, was a nice break from the Cambridge winter and for the £40 plane fares you can get I'd consider going back.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

New York

On my way back to England I spend a long weekend in New York with my old friend Alex. I've been to NY quite a few times now but Times Square is always pretty impressive/overwhelming. This year they build a new glowing red staircase in the middle of the whole square. I've visited Alex a few times in NY and seems like we always catch a movie around Times Square, this time it was "Youth in Revolt."

The great thing about New York is that there is basically an inexhaustible list of things to see so even when you've been before there are new things. I'd wanted to see the Bronx Zoo for a while, and despite the frigid weather that kept a few animals inside we made it up there. I've been to many zoos, and this one compared well, with very nice old buildings and a good collection of animals.
The nerd highlight of the trip (which of course is the overall highlight as well) was the NY Hall of Science, a hands on science museum for kids. We didn't get to see nearly all of it but this was one of the best museums of this type I've been to. Two exhibits in particular were perfect for me. They had one on sports science, where we got to see how fast we could throw, test our balance on a fake surf board, and test our reaction time in a fake drag racing car. Then they had an exhibit on network theory, which blew me away because this is a pretty new research area and one where I've published, and they came up with some really fun exhibits. Above is a large display of Conway's Game of Life, one of computer science's best public facing demos. Quite a fun visit.

The least nerdy part of the trip was our tour of (new) Yankee Stadium, which was Alex's gift to her roommate Lydia. Here they are in the dugout. I got yelled at for trying to pick up the dugout phone and call for a reliever. It was a neat tour, we got to see the locker rooms and dugouts and a few other places you always see on TV but never get to go. They also had heaps of historical Yankees stuff, and believe it or not, some Yankees merchandise for sale.

I also made it to Princeton on Sunday afternoon to visit Jess, and we watched the unbelievable Packers-Cardinals playoff game. All in all a great trip that broke up my San Francisco-London journey and avoided an overnight flight. Thanks to my great hosts in NY.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Christmas Break

I was lucky to spend over three weeks at home over Christmas. Here I am in London getting ready to fly home with my favorite sister. It was really nice, it worked out that I could catch the same LHR-SFO flight she was taking on her way home from Russia.

Being a busy grad student I had to work quite a bit at home. I spent the first week or so finishing up a research paper, and was lucky enough to visit the EFF, an organization I've looked up to for a long time, and give a talk and help work with them on the recent Facebook privacy mess.
Of course, Christmas is mostly a time to relax with friends and family, which I did find some time to do. That's us above winning pub quiz night at the Rogue Ale House, with my former roommates in San Francisco and two siblings.
Here's my family in Union Square celebrating my mom's birthday a few days before Christmas. We went to a steakhouse, not the best food for a vegetarian but it was great to have the whole family together.

 Dad's birthday was a few days later (on Christmas itself), this is the family looking very festive celebrating Christmas, birthday, and a very late Thanksgiving all at once (note the pumpkin pie doubling as a birthday cake).
My favorite cat, Fletcher, was missing from that family photo but he was around sleeping on the couch for most of the break.

One of the stranger moments was when our dad brought home swine flu vaccinations for the whole family. Depending on you who ask, this picture is either the result of my dad being the worse shot-giver in the world, or my brother being the biggest wimp about taking shots in the world. Needless to say I got mine from my mom.

Football was of course a big part of the break, watching bowl games on TV and playing a pickup game on Christmas day. Here's a big group of us watching the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco a few days after Christmas.

Finally, New Years in San Francisco with my old roommates. Definitely miss them and the apartment. Here Tyler and I are celebrating 2010 on a nice night in San Francisco with about 60 other people crammed onto our roof with no guardrails. Luckily nobody fell off, I'll consider that a good omen for the year.