Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sweet dreams, vol 2.

The seminar near Helsinki turned out to be really good. Made a lot of contacts and got numerous good references to read up on... if I only had the time.

Once I was dropped back to Helsinki, I wondered around looking for the two music stores that had been pointed out to me by Mari, an ex-classmate who studies in Helsinki and whom I had agreed to meet up with later on. And, against all expectations, one of the stores actually had a 5 string acoustic bass guitar... which I spent quite a bit of time admiring. My mom wanted to buy me a graduation present and I was considering something along these lines as one of the best options. In the end, I decided against buying it though as the pricetag was a tad too high.

I then met up with Mari and we wondered around for hours, visiting an art museum and having lunch along the way. Nevertheless, we still got to the terminal an hour early... and found that the ship had been delayed by an hour too - meaning we had a two hour wait ahead of us. Her boyfriend joined us in about a half, and we found things to talk about almost all the way to the ship.

Once in Tallinn, I took a tram to √úlemiste, and, as I had missed the last bus to Tartu, headed towards the Airport in order to attempt hitchhiking to my destination.

About an hour later, a rekka driver picked me up in his small car. He explained he had seen me along the side of the road as he was driving his truck to its parking lot to exchange it for his normal car, and was quite surprised I had not been picked up in all that time.

The trip to Tartu was spent talking with the guy. He had quite a few colorful stories to tell.. about traffic in different cultures, about couples having sex against his truck and so on..

I was dropped off near to where I live, and reached home at exactly 4 A.M. Had a bath, watched some TED and practiced my bass playing.. had about half an hour of sleep too, but had to cut it short as I had a car to catch at 8.

The car contained two mycologists and a high school student and was heading for the Spring school of Theoretical Biology, held for 2 days near Pärnu - meaning a 3 hr car ride. Again, mostly spent talking, first only with the mycologists but later having the student join the discussion too.

We arrived just in time for the first coffe break, had a few cups and then went to listen to the talks...

Which, sad to say, were mostly one dissapointment after another, at least on the first day. Thankfully, all three talks of the second day were considerably better. Bad talks meant I had plenty of time to look around in the auditorium, though. Quite a few familiar faces, from quite a few different places too. One girl form a PhD course, one from my Psych classes, a guy from CS winter schools, a girl from an educational conference in Tallinn and a few professors I knew from some earlier public lectures. Oh, and of course S. and T.

After lunch, I had a chance to get another 3 hours of sleep before the next batch of talks. Which I gladly took and which refreshed me just enough to last the evening til 1.30 A.M. Which, once the dinner ended, was mostly spent alternating between a hot tub and a sauna, in mixed company. And quite enjoyed the rest that followed.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sweet Dreams are made of These

It's fun how plans can change sometimes. For example I had planned yesterday for improving the public materials of our institute... but then I heard from a friend that at the same time, a seminar is taking place that I really wanted to attend.

So naturally, popularization materials had to wait.

Same went for a student, who wanted to meet up with me to discuss some questions. But for him, the wait was just a few extra hours, as I did find time for him in the evening.

Right before meeting a colleague to go singing. Which was... way over my head but also tremendously fun.

Then it was dinnertime... which I combined with showing a friend of mine what to look for when buying a bass guitar.

And then I was off to the library to man the "Mathematics Helpdesk" for the second evening in a row. And there, the two hours just flew by instantly. Good company, bad coffee, what else could a man need for happiness?

My colleague T. then dropped me off to my home again, where I spent an hour on TED and another practicing bass, after which I set off to the bus station, to catch the 2.50 bus to Tallinn, to catch the 7.30 ship to Helsinki.

Which I did, after a scenic walk through the empty morning streets of Tallinn, singing along loudly to whatever was playing from my walkman. Arrived at the port an hour early, but I had a book to keep me company. That was also how I spent most of my two hours on the ship.

In Helsinki, I had an hour to navigate to the center. Not a problem, with a map and all. Another scenic walk through a waking city later, and I was at the bus stop, to catch a bus to the seminar.

Another hour of reading later and we arrived, checked in, had lunch and started listening to talks. Nordic Network in Engineering Education Research or something similar. A networking event, mostly.

And surprisingly to even myself, it is possible to network even after being awake 30 hrs straight. If you asked me how, I'd conjecture coffee has something to do with it.. but not entirely sure...

Hopefully, I can get to bed before I hit 40. 40 hrs, I mean.

Although, this semi-awake state is kind of fun :)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Those were the best days of my life

I had my PhD thesis defense today. And it went pretty well - the speech I had prepared just last night (at Webmedia and Narva 27 guard booth) and that I had rehearsed just once came out better than I could have anticipated. And the opponents questions were quite hard and probing, but I think I managed to answer most of them quite adequately.

The banquet afterwards was also very nice. And so was the sitting at Pirogov right after. And the gathering at my place was even better - with guitars, singing and even Tango dancing... Truly, a night to remember.

Thank you to everybody who made it happen. This will be a night I will not soon forget, and it would not have been so without you.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

EuroCrypt 2011 Rump Session

was today. For those who don't know, EuroCrypt is one of the 3 biggest cryptography conferences, this year being held in Tallinn, and rump session is an informal session for short talks (2-5 min) in which entertainment is valued over serious scientific content.

I was in charge of making sure people stay in their alotted time span. The standard solution is to start turning up volume of background music if the time is up, thus slowly drowning out the speaker. Thankfully, I was allowed to be a bit more creative about it.

I invited one of my friend from the Limping Wolves (my medieval society) to join me. Half an hour before the event, we hauled our arms and armor backstage and started setting up and got into armor just as the session chair was beginning his introduction.

Thankfully, noone had noticed what we brought in, so crowd was visibly surprised upon seeing us enter the stage and putting a sword to the neck of the professor who had just gone overtime. Surprised in a good way, though :)

The next guy to go overtime tried to fight back with a toy pistol... which was, of course, ineffective against two men in medieval battle armor. That guy actually had to be escorted away twice - and second time we actually had to carry him off. The nerve of some people :D

Next guy who had to be chased off the stage was... well, me. When it was my turn to speak, I went to the podium, took off my helmet, leaned my sword against a nearby table and started giving the presentation with the most serious face I could muster. Crowd had a laugh, of course, but quickly quieted down to hear what I had to say. But my presentation was abruptly ended by the session chair just when I was starting to explain my last slide... so I had to defend myself from my friend as I was saying the last few sentences...

The first part ended with me having a tug-of-war over a spear with Whitfield Diffie - one of the fathers of public-key cryptography - as he was trying to stop me from using it on on Andy Clark, the former president of IACR.

Still, the favorite part of the evening was when we pulled a sheet over the head of Peter, my former office-mate from Denmark a year ago. Just as he had finished talking about performance results of a a competing system to the one that my talk was about.

I think I have not worn my full suit of armor for over two years. So I was quite rusty -- figuratively more than literally. All in all, it was a good evening, and more fun than I have had in quite a while.

I mean, how often do you get to scare world-famous cryptographers?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Welcome to life damnation

Nowhere to run,
Nowhere to go,
Welcome to life damnation!
Welcome to fun,
Welcome to hope,
Here is your invitation!

- Edguy, "Overture"

Yesterday I realized that - in a way - I have reached the end of the line. I am at a point where I really have nothing that I can meaningfully work towards achieving. The things I want, I either have or have no way of pursuing. Or rather, any pursuit thereof would only drive them further away.

Gloomy... in a sense... as I am having to battle with the despair of complete pointlessness.

But also very freeing - for if there really is nothing I could usefully do, I can stop worrying about these things and do stuff I actually find fun.

Extreme ups followed by despairing downs... and this rollercoaster may well keep on going for a while. Guess I'm in for a fun ride.