Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Finnish efficiency

I am thoroughly impressed by Finnish efficiency!

On the first day I had signed my contract, got my badge, a laptop, a phone, the keys to my personal office, setup my university account, and my license to operate the coffee machine. 🙂

On the second day I had registered at the police, got my foreigner ID, registered as a resident, applied for social security, got my tax card, applied for a transportation card, and opened a bank account.

Couldn’t be any faster!

On the other hand, some things don’t seem very welcoming for foreigners. For example:

  • I had to pay 50€ to register at the police, which boils down to a hefty “immigration tax” which should not be there.
  • All my social benefits (social security, health insurance, transport discount, etc..) expire the moment my contract terminates
  • I need to wait 3 payslips before the bank gives me access to web banking (and I can change the PIN of my card).

Some friends even told me about circular dependencies in the set of documents you need to register (though I didn’t have any problem). Definitely an interesting mix!

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  • The number of homeless people living in San Francisco is astounding. And they stay right there in the heart of the city, a few meters away from the chic luxury stores. One second you are looking at a Gucci shop window and the next thing you see is people playing dices for money on the street in front of an erotic club.
  • Only in California you can pay at a farmer’s market with a credit card.
  • You can find soft drinks and junk food in a sports equipment shop (and in many other places they don’t really belong to).
  • Having a walk in the bay area (any place beside San Francisco) feels weird. You are the only one walking and there is absolutely nothing but houses and fast foods for miles.
  • The weather is amazingly good.
  • Product features include a list of “No X”, where X can be just about anything. Does not matter whether “X” is provenly bad or not. I guess it’s very easy to start a collective psychosis: just put “No potatoes” on a product and everybody will start worrying about potatoes.
  • People are tall.
  • Cisco has offices in Cisco Way.
  • Traffic is awful. However when there is not traffic driving is great.
  • There are 2 kinds of people: those with an iPhone and those with some other smartphone. The latter are a minority.
  • Halloween is a serious thing. People don’t mind waiting hour-long queues to get into bars.
  • Everything come in XL size. 8 lanes highways, seriously?
  • Most beers taste like hop juice, let alone IPAs.
  • iPhone covers are used to express your personality.
  • Nobody drinks water. Only soft drinks, power drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks. At least it needs to contain added vitamins, colorants, and come in a grillion flavors.
  • When you go out for dinner you don’t choose the restaurant, you choose the nationality.
  • In San Francisco people stop you to tell you how much they appreciate your look.

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California Dreamin’

The american dream awaits.

Silicon Valley, here I come!

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American style breakfast

Latte from the original Starbucks shop (1971), peanut butter cookie from Cinnamon Works, in Pike Place Market, Seattle, 2012.

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…if only I could forget how Italian coffee tastes!

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I will be traveling to USA for the WSDM’12 conference to present our work on news recommendation: “From Chatter to Headlines: Harnessing the Real-Time Web for Personalized News Recommendation”. T.Rex (Twitter based RECommendation System) blends signals from social circles, personal interests and popularity to learn a personalized ranking function for online news articles. A more detailed explanation will follow as an invited post on another blog.
At WSDM I will be giving a 4 minutes spotlight presentation and then I will explain the details in a long poster session.

Then, I will fly to California to present T.Rex at the annual Yahoo! Labs meeting: Science Week. There I will have a 10 minutes slot in a workshop about news experiments and a 1 minute presentation in a fun competition called “60 seconds of science”.

It’s going to be challenging to present the same topic in so many different formats!


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USA Style

Just drove 200 miles along Interstate 5 on a Ford Mustang 4000cc to go hiking on a volcano.

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Saturday January 8th 2011, Barcelona.
Outside temperature: 18°C

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ICDM 2010 in OZ

I am back from ICDM 2010 (IEEE International Conference on Data Mining).
This year the conference was held in Sydney, Australia, or OZ as they like to say.
The Aussie experience was very interesting.

I presented my work on Self-Similarity Join using MapReduce. The time to present was quite not enough, but overall I was satisfied with my performance. The conference was OK, even though I would say not excellent. I did not get many ideas from the presenters. Luckily I met some nice people there, and I got some good contacts.

Australia is a wonderful country Cheerful people, nice weather, relaxed atmosphere, great nature, awesome beaches, food from all around the world.
Only downside: it is outright expensive.
If you have a chance to go there, be sure to make a trip to the Blue Mountains, they really deserve it. The name comes from the light blue mist that hovers on the eucalyptus forests there. The sap of the tree evaporates and causes the mist.

Being hugged by a kangaroo is an experience I will never forget. Their kicks are also remarkable, I think my legs will remember them too.
I got my vengeance by eating them! ‘roo loins are delicious. Their meat is very lean, full of proteins, remembers a bit horse meat. Kangaroo meat is quite common there, you can find it in many restaurants and even in the supermarket. On the exotic side, I also tried crocodile skewers. It is a bit of a cliche, but it tastes very much like chicken. The texture is different though, it is much tougher. Recommended place to try them: Cafe Ish, 82 Campbell St. Be sure to try their Wattle Mocaccino too 🙂

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