August 13, 2006

Omak Stampede Indian Encampment

On Saturday I went to Brewster to pick up my mother's parents, and then we drove to Spokane for cousin Hanny's birthday party. It was nice seeing Hanny and her kids (Jordan has really grown!) and meeting their dog Jake, who was just a blast to play with. Jordan spent some time playing Galactic Civilizations II, a great turn-based strategy game that everyone should buy. We drove back to Brewster in the evening, barely avoiding some deer on the three hour trip, and then on Sunday I went to Omak to visit the Indian Encampment at the Stampede.

The Indian Encampment is a neat thing where there are some tradiational teepee encampments, and there is Native American dancing judged over different groups. It was really interesting. There is great drumming and singing to go along with the dancing. I stayed for a few hours and watched that, and have some pictures and videos here to share.

Stampede weekend is a lot of fun overall, the little town of Omak is full of people that weekend, there is a big carnival, and lots of things to do and see. There is a lot of (sometimes kitschy) shopping, and food stalls. I had fry bread for the first time, and while I thought it was good, I didn't think it was good enough to be the scourge on the nation that is has been made out to be.

August 11, 2006

The World Famous Omak Stampede and Suicide Race

After SIGIR ended, I flew to Spokane, WA, where I rented a car and drove out to visit my grandparents in Omak, Washington. The Omak Stampede is a rodeo that is held every second weekend in August. In 1935, the Omak Stampede Publicity Chairman (Claire Pentz) was searching for an exciting event to add to the then young rodeo. About that time the Grand Coulee Dam was being built, and it flooded out an area where the nearby Colville Indians had run a traditional wild and dangerous race as a rite-of-passage. After discussion with the local Tribal leaders and Rodeo board, the Suicide Race was born.

The race has changed little since the first running in 1935, outside of some safety measures that have been taken. The riders now have to wear life jackets, and the horses undergo a thorough physical and testing to make sure that they will not balk at running down the steep bluff and swimming across Okanogan river. The race itself is a no holds barred race down a 225 foot very steep sandy bluff to the river, then swim across the river and race 500 feet into the finish line at the Stampede Arena. Riders have to be at least 16 years old, and are almost always young Indian men. The horses are also well vetted to insure that they will be able to complete the race. Sometimes horses show up without riders, and sometimes horse and rider don't make it to the finish line, but generally injuries are uncommon (but not rare.)

The Suicide Race is the final event in the Omak Stampede Rodeo. It was just pure luck, but I arrived in Omak on the start of the Stampede. Since I had never been to the Stampede before, and I won't likely have another chance soon, I thought it would be a good idea to experience it this time around. I got tickets for Friday night - it was surprisingly cheap! Only $20 for good seats near the "chutes" (I was told they are good seats anyway.) The chutes are where the riders and horses come out. There was lots of riders on bucking broncos and later on bulls. The Suicide Race capped off the evening.

I'm not really sure how the riders are scored, but it was pretty fun watching. I've got a set of pictures about the Omak Stampede on Flickr that you can check out.

I've also got a few short videos up on youtube.com from the stampede.

August 9, 2006

2006-08-09 SIGIR Notes

Wednesday's keynote:

Information Access in the Extended Boeing Enterprise
Radha Radhakrishnan

Overview of Boeing's information technology and information distribution structure.

read more (1146 words)

August 8, 2006

2006-08-08 SIGIR notes

Keynote:
Social Networks, Incentives, and Search
Jon Kleinberg, Cornell University

An introduction to social networks, and some parallels to information retrieval.

read more (1507 words)

Back in the USA, and jetlagged (or, "Sleepless in Seattle")

I'm back in the USA for the first time since early March in 2006. I flew into Seattle from Tokyo on Saturday August 5th, 2006. The flight left at about 6pm in Tokyo on Saturday, and arrived in Seattle at about 9am on Saturday. Unfortunately I don't usually sleep well on airplanes, and didn't get much sleep at all on the flight over.

Professor Kando was meeting a friend of hers from Singapore who has been living in Seattle for the past few years for lunch, and invited me along. The plan was to go to the best pizzaria in Seattle. We had a bit of a tough time reaching the place due to traffic, since it was SeaFair (some sort of Seattle festival type thing) and some parades shut down the roads to the place. As we drew closer to the place, I became more and more sure that we were going to Tutta Bella Pizza, also said to be the best pizza in Seattle by the Weaver family. So it has been confirmed by two independant sources, the best pizza in Seattle.

The next day I woke up and had the complimentary breakfast at the hotel. The star of the meal was the waffle in one of those rotating auto-timer waffle irons, just like back in the dorms at SMU. Actually, I was really full after that breakfast, and decided to walk to the University of Washington to register for the conference. I got a map from the hotel desk, and struck out for campus. I didn't know how the map or I was oriented though, and walked for about fifteen minutes in one direction before realizing that I went the wrong way. I went back to the hotel, and tried another direction. About fifteen minutes walking on a nice biking path, I realized that was the wrong direction as well, and turned around. I got it right the last time, and made it to the conference site. After registering for the conference I walked back to the hotel (about half an hour when you know the way) and collapsed on the bed for a few hours before the reception. I also met with Professor Kando briefly and gave a practice talk. I received a lot of good feedback, and a list of changes to make to my slides.

In the evening we took busses to the Boeing Future of Flight center for the welcoming reception. It was really nice. I met many people, and by the time we made it back to the hotel, where I was not tired at all. I stayed up maybe until 5am or something stupid like that.

The first day of the conference was just terrible. I was ready to go to bed at about 3pm, and had a really tough time following the talks. I decided to skip the poster session, went back to the hotel, and fell asleep for about four hours. I then got up and spent four hours working on my slides. I'll do slide review with Inoue-san from NII today, and probably work on them some more tonight and tomorrow as well.

Since I got a full six hours + 4 hours of sleep yesterday, I hope that the worst of the jet-lag is over. It has been horrible though. It doesn't seem to be as bad when I go to Japan, but we'll see what happens on the way back.

August 7, 2006

2006-08-07 SIGIR in Seattle Notes

Keynote talk is by Keith van Rijsbergen (recipient of the Salton
award, the highest SIGIR honor.)

Talk entitled "Quantum Haystacks", and is more on the fun side of things according to him. Early work has been on clustering, and went over other areas he has worked in as well.

read more (1099 words)

July 22, 2006

Notes from Friday 2006-07-21 COLING/ACL conference

Notes from Friday's sessions at the last day of COLING/ACL.


read more (3229 words)

July 20, 2006

Notes from Thursday 2006-07-20 COLING/ACL conference

Rough notes from Thursday's presentations at COLING/ACL.

read more (1902 words)

Wednesday, 2007-07-19 Part II: Seasickness, food poisoning, or a heart attack?!?

We headed back to the boat, and I think the next stop was a two hour cruise with drinks. I decided that I wasn't too comfortable on the boat for two hours, so wouldn't have any alcohol.

read more (1213 words)

Wednesday, 2007-07-19

At Coling, traditionally one day is reserved for an excursion to see the sites in the area. I think this is a nice idea. I'm fairly bad at planning sightseeing when I'm on my own, so it is nice to have a large group to go with.

Part I: The Zoo and Manly Beach

read more (404 words)

July 19, 2006

Notes from Tuesday 2007-07-18 COLING/ACL 2006 session

2006-07-18 Invited Keynote Tuesday morning
Argmax Search in Natural Language Processing
Daniel Marcu

read more (1617 words)

Tuesday 2006-07-18

I went to lunch with Min-Yen Kan and Kathy McKeown. We had a very nice lunch, and Kathy was very helpful with career advice.

Met up with a Group of Columbia related people for dinner.

July 18, 2006

Notes from Monday 2007-07-17's talks at ACL/COLIONG 2006

Notes from the second machine translation session at COLING/ACL in Sydney Australia. If you aren't a computational linguist, this will probably not interest you. Even if you are, I am not making any promises...

read more (1585 words)

Monday 2006-07-17

Yesterday I met up with Stephen Wan and got the keys to his sister's apartment. The plan was to take a nap and get up at 7pm to go to the welcoming cocktail party for ACL/COLING. I started my "nap" at 4:30pm, woke up at about midnight, and then kept sleeping up 7:30am. I somehow managed to find the convention center, about a fifteen minute walk from the apartment, although it took me closer to half an hour on my first try, and attended the conference. I've got blog posting with my notes from the talks over in my research section if you are interested. The first day was very nice.

Post-conference drinks

I met up with Stephen and his crew, which was large, and we went out to a bar for dinner and drinks.

During the conference I had a nice chat with Professor Nanba from Hiroshima University at the conference.

July 16, 2006

Sunday 2006-07-16 (Trip to Australia)

Part 1: To the airport

Today has been a long day. It started out as a Saturday morning, in a relaxed enough manner, at 9:30am. The previous evening I had gone with some friends from work to the Mitama (Soul) Festival at Yasukuni Temple, near work. Since the evening was late, I decided to leave my computer and conference announcements in the office and pick them up before going to the airport on Saturday. Since I have a commuter pass to work, it doesn't cost me anything but time to get to work and back, so I didn't see much of a downside to running out there to fetch stuff again in the morning.read more (1876 words)

July 15, 2006

Mitama Matsuri at Yasukuni Jinjya

Link to my picture set on the Mitama Matsuri festival at Yasukuni Shrine, 2006 On Friday, I with some friends from work to the Mitama Matsuri at Yasukuni Jinjya. This is a very interesting trip all around, because it is a traditional Japanese Matsuri (festival) that takes place in a temple that honors those who have fallen during wartime (Yasukuni Temple.) The temple itself has been the center of, in a peripherial manner, a long-standing controversy between Japan and its neighbors, mainly China and Korea. The main controversy is not over the temple itself, but visits to the temple by Prime Minister Koizumi, who has been going there for the past few years. He says that he goes to the temple as an individual, and not a representative of the government.read more (1717 words)

July 10, 2006

Decision making in the absence of information

Did I ever tell you the story of Eunice "The Cutey"? It is a favorite story of mine. Years ago, when I started the PhD program at Columbia, I met a guy in my Program Languages and Translators class that I thought was totally awesome. He was wearing a Hoagie Haven T-shirt (I liked that place when I was in high school, so was shocked to see it randomly showing up in a class of mine in New York) so I thought it was my moral duty to talk to this guy. Our first conversation was about palindromes. He mentioned that he liked that. I mentioned that I had been trying to think of a good way to use golf and flog in a palindrome, and on the spot he came out with "Re-flog a golfer". I don't know how I could have missed that myself, but anyway, we became fast friends. His name is Carl Sable.

In that class, at some point we had to do a project in groups of three. Carl and I had worked together before and worked really well together, but now we needed to pick up a third person. I suggested that, in the absence of any information about other people in the class (because we didn't know any else in it) then we should view everyone else as intellectually equal candidates (being the progressive that I think I am) and use some sort of exterior quality to make a decision about who to work with. As long as we're judging on purely superficial qualities (since we assume in the absence of any other evidence that everyone is intellectually equal) then why not choose to work with a cute girl, because if nothing else, she is at least cute.

So I asked a girl named Eunice, who was really cute and will henceforth be named "The Cutey", if she would join our group. She did, and we got to work on the project. I'm going to cut this story short, but I'll just say that my progressive view that you shouldn't judge people's intellectual ability based on their exterior qualities just did not pan out well in this case. I mean, in general, just because a girl is blond, I don't think you should assume that she is an airhead. Over the course of our project, The Cutey did absolutely nothing to help us progress, and in fact set us back by probably a few days. When she didn't contribute to our planning sessions (either saying nothing when she showed up, or not showing up at all) we tried to minimize the work she would have to do. We gave her some sort of simple task to program, and she somehow managed to delete the entire codebase, losing us maybe two or three days work because we had to go back to some backup files that Carl had luckily kept. (Of course, that's Carl for you. You can count on him to be nothing if not consistent and detail-oriented. He consistently keeps backups. Although, also following one of Carl's traits, he didn't use CVS or RCS or any sort of technology-based solution. He just copied all the files to a folder, backups.2 or something. And there are backups.1, backups.3, ..., backups.n folders for some value of n.)

So what is the point of this story? Sometimes I make decision based on utterly idiotic ideas, like choosing project members based on how cute they are. I'm sure we could have picked out some random asian male and ended up with a good partner[*]. Even if things don't work out in the end, you are left with an amusing story. Also, The Cutey was, true to her name, very cute for the entire length of the project.

[*] This is mostly a joke, because why should it be the case that some random asian male would be a good student? You really can't generalize like that and expect it to hold true all the time, which was the entire point of this experiment. Why should a cute girl be assumed to be a bad partner for a project? Still, I'm pretty sure that had we just asked one of the asian males in the class, we would have had an easier time of things, but not nearly as amusing of a story.

July 5, 2006

How to use Excel charts in LaTeX documents on Mac OSX

I use LaTeX to write most of my research-related papers. I really like LaTeX. I think it has a high learning curve, but it does give very nice results, makes formatting something you don't have to think about, and is great with references and citations. I love how you can easily re-organize your paper's structure, and LaTeX (with BiBTeX and friends) will always make sure that your section and figuring numbering will be correct.

What I don't really like about LaTeX is that it is very hard to set up, and doesn't integrate well with modern tools. Copy and paste for images is unthinkable in this model. The only real graphic format that is well supported is Encapsulated Postscript (.eps) files. You can argue that using pdf files for graphics works, if you use pdflatex, but that opens up a completely different can of worms. I like sticking with regular LaTeX. You can always convert a .dvi file to ps or pdf, you can use pdflatex with .eps files, but you can not go the other way around: you can't make a .dvi with a LaTeX file that includes .pdf files for graphics, at least in my experience.

I wish LaTeX would support better graphic formats, like SVG. I use Inkscape a lot on Linux, and like it. Since LaTeX does use EPS though, isn't it nice that under Mac OSX we can print anything to a PostScript file? Here is a description (sans photos, for now at least) of how I recently included some Excel charts in a LaTeX paper I'm writing.

Create a .ps file for the chart

In Excel, select the chart you want to include. Print it, and in the print options box click "Page Setup...". Under the "Page" tab, make sure that Orientation is set to "Portrait", then click over to the "Chart" tab. For "Printed chart size" select "Custom". Click "OK" to get back to the regular print options, and click on the PDF drop-down menu. Select "Save PDF as PostScript..." and save the file as a .ps file somewhere.

For reference, I based these directions on some information I found for windows users on the same topic.

Convert the .ps file to a .eps file

Now we have to convert the .ps file to an .eps file. While this is supposed to be a process you can do by hand, I've never had much luck doing it by hand. Instead, I suggest you use ghostview or The Gimp to convert to an .eps file. I have installed The Gimp on my Mac using fink, so that is the route that I took. Be sure to check "Encapsulated Postscript" in the Gimp when you save, and you might not want to have any offset at all. Also, you should crop the image to the correct size - The Gimp's auto-crop feature worked well for me.

Save the file with a .eps extension.

Add graphic to your LaTeX file

I use the graphicx package for graphics usually, and just include the resulting file. I usually have to reduce the size of the charts, but it all works really well.

I hope some people find this information useful. I know that I will in a few months when I ask myself "Now, how did I include that Excel chart in my last paper again?"

June 26, 2006

Go-Con! Japanese Love Culture

This weekend I watched a movie, Go-Con! Japanese Love Culture that I had spotted quite a while ago, and thought might be interesting.

A Go-con is certainly a formal institution in Japanese culture, although it isn't really quite clear to me what role it plays, and how I personally should relate to the phenomena. It is basically an en-masse blind date, where one male invites a number of his single friends and a female invites an equal number of her single friends to a dinner, everyone meets everyone else, and people chat over drinks.

I know that I have never encountered this kind of thing on such an organized level in the United States. Of course, blind dates exist, and group outings with friends exist, but it seems to me like one of the main points of a Go-Con is to introduce single people to each other, with the hope that some permutation will result in non-single people eventually.

I didn't particularly think the movie was very interesting, despite a reasonable score from the imdb. The main joke, that three guys organize many go-cons over and over, and follow a predictable script in each encounter, was played out in the opening minutes. It was interesting to see who their chosen fourth patsy would be for each evening, and what character foible would be used to highlight his complete unsuitabilty (hence improving the other three's chances at having a good conversation with one of the ladies, who effectively outnumber them by one now) but otherwise there wasn't much interesting until the closing scene.

In the final scene there was some introspective commentary about the surface nature of Go-Cons, where judgments are made quickly based on appearances, and the competitive nature was just a way to comparatively measure one's own worth against the others in a battle to impress the women.

An alternative viewpoint is offered by the older Japanese chef narrator who says that this is just a modernization of a long-time Japanese cultural practice (which I can't really comment on since I don't know the historical basis) and that despite the surface appearances it is important to speak from the heart. That viewpoint is hardly shown by any of the male actors outside of the final scene, and even then they have all been portrayed in such a superficial light that I can't believe any of the emotion that they try to bring about to redeem their characters to make for the happy ending.

A thid semi-interesting point is the view that the Go-Con is a team endeavor that requires brains, thinking, and planning in order to "win". Of course, I don't really like how this sets up the Go-Con as essentially a battle of the sexes in which women must be tricked into thinking that men have some redeeming quality, because as everyone knows, we're devious beasts after only one thing. Which, indeed is the impression that the movie gives out for 95% of the movie!

Most unbelievably, if I was the main female lead, a waitress who works in the restaurant where the Go-Cons all take place, I certainly would have no interest at all in any of the repeat Go-Con attendees. That was the hardest leap of faith of all to make.

All that being said, I'm going to a Go-Con set up my by friend Watanabe-san this week, and have been thinking about what sort of role I play in the outing. Am I the unlucky fourth, chosen because my lack of mastery of the Japanese language will confine me to a corner seat where I'll eat my food and nod my head? Or am I going to steal the thunder of my fellow Go-Conners and dominate the conversation because I'm exotic? Most likely I'll just have a nice evening chatting with people about inconsequential things because frankly, I'm not Japanese and I don't think too hard about what a Go-Con is supposed to be. I don't really know what it is to the Japanese experience, and no matter how many bad movies I watch, I won't; I'll have to form my own (slightly biased) opinion as seen from foreign eyes.

If anyone knows of any other Go-Con related movies please let me know.


Go to Page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24 25  26  27  28  29  30