Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mountain Biking

My research includes reading and thinking about statistical models for social networks. But it's good to hear about some of the ideas from the authors themselves; straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak. It's nice to hear their line of thinking, which often doesn't come across properly in conference articles. Blame it on last minute nature of these submsissions. Regardless, it's interesting to see where lines of thinking overlap and diverge, with the goal of finding questions that are both important and unanswered.

The highlight was meeting other grad students who have similar interests. Some of them are like me - just getting done with classes - and others already have a handful of papers under their belt. Nerdy conversations can't be helped since that's the common denominator. When discussing people's university experience, I was reminded to be thankful for an advisor that is supportive and attentive and knowledgeable in my area of interest; some others are not so fortunate. Second, it is rare to have such a great research group with a ton of expertise on models and algorithms that are closely related to the stuff applied to social networks; other students are often on their own.

I joined three others to rent mountain bikes. The trails were world class. (I didn't take any pics, but I found some helmet-cam footage.) A few main gravel roads criss-cross the no-cars-allowed park. From these, one can access "green" trails: a mix of dirt crushed gravel that were wide enough for a wheelchair. You could really get moving on these because the turns were easy and predictable. From these one can access dozens of "blue"-rated single track. Obstacles included huge granite slabs and boulders and rocks (no problem for the double suspension bikes we rented). We sometimes crossed one-foot-wide wooden bridges that passed over swampy areas and banked around trees, both sounding and feeling like an old rollercoaster. I never sought out the "black" trails, but I know they were above my abilities.

The other guys with me were equally cautious at first since none of us had spent a ton of time on mountain bikes. By the end we were rocking and rolling enough to wake up the next morning at 7am and do it again for a couple hours. Now I see why this is one of the Meccas of Mountain Biking.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

On the way to Whistler

It has been a few years since I have placed words on this small piece of the interweb. I am still not 30 and I still (by most standards) have yet to obtain a "real job". But a new adventure deserves new updates.

The general gameplan: a week in Whistler, 3 weeks in Italy/Paris, and a few days in Washington DC on the way back to Orange County. I have nerdy events at each location: talks, conferences, etc. Emma and I also plan to hike through the Dolomites for a week or so before checking out Venice for a few days.

I am on a bus from Vancouver to Whistler. The highway sits right where a set of dark green mountains meet the water. A few small islands, rising steeply and entirely covered with trees, seem like a perfect getaway for a lifetime of solitude. At one small bridge we passed a stream with water so white that I chuckled in surprise. Some of the mountains have granite faces that rise several hundred feet into the air, and others reveal snow-capped peaks only when the clouds shift just right.

Seeing such natural beauty is a bit of a shock when coming from the well manicured suburban sprawl of Orange County. I am almost unable to enjoy it, out of fear that it may not last, that people will find it and ruin it.

The conference is about the statistical modeling of social networks. Over the next few days I plan to hear some things I (should) already know, learn some things I didn't, meet people who have thought about my interests for many years, meet other excited grad students, and think about how I can contribute.

I also would like to rent a bike and check out the scenery.