Saturday, May 31, 2008

some random points

= Just listen to it. Don't make any other sound. Blunt all the other senses except the ears. Wait. Listen to it.

= Is it on expected lines that the continuing and persistant bloggers from my IIIT batch (pati, simeen and me for example) are also the first ones from the batch to start blogging regularly? Its almost 4 years now ... whoa!

= gtalk's 'talk' is written in four colours, t is blue, a is red, l is orange and k is green. We do know that red, orange and green colours are used by it to depict the status of the contacts. But what does the blue of 't' stand for? The other possible state - offline is colourless and not blue. So, what can we associate with the blue of 't' ? Any ideas? (I know, I know this must be one of the most inconsequential and utterly ridiculous questions ever asked .. but then who is keeping a record :P)

= It was surprisingly sunny for a whole week, a week ago. So, last weekend, I dusted my bicycle, cleaned it and even oiled it, with a resolve to start using it again, after having literally abandoned it since september last year. However, the regular grey wet weather made a return on the night of that eventful day. And has persisted since. Alas, my poor optimism :D.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Conference and Portugal

Okay, so I was in Portugal for the past 8 days attending Aamas 08. Though I had attended a bigger conference before (IJCAI 07) and also Robocup 05, this was different. This time, I was a proper phd student (was just a beginner at Ijcai) and also had to present something. Anyway, lets start with the flight.

Since this was a official aka sponsored trip, the four of us who were taking the same flight had a taxi to take us to Heathrow from Southampton at 5am. The flight was at 8am and as I tend to do for such early flights, I did not sleep at night and packed around 4am. Everything went along too smoothly (I wasn't even asked to remove my shoes at security, which I always had to do at Heathrow) and we were in the flight and the flight took off on time! But then the fun started. 5 minutes after being airborne, I was rudely jolted awake by very loud and weird noise seemingly emanating from below the aircraft. We felt it was the landing gear. After another 5 minutes, the pilot announces that the plane is experiencing 'technical problems' and hence we will be going back to Heathrow! Presumably the landing gear was stuck and could not be retracted. As we landed back at the airport in a very jerky fashion, it was amusing to see the runway surrounded by fire-engines and ambulances :P. Soon, we are asked to get off the plane .... and after taking us to another terminal and back and through another security check, they asked us to go through immigration, collect our luggage and check in again for one of the later flights! So at immigration at Heathrow airport in London, this was how the conversations went:
Official: So where are you coming from today?
Me: err ... here .. london?
Official: /:) Where did you go?
Me: I was to go to Lisbon but didn't.
Official: eh? Then how/why are you here??
and I had to explain the whole story :P
So, we reached Lisbon at 5pm instead of 11am. TAP did sap all our energies!

Moving on, spent the weekend at Lisbon (or whatever was left of saturday and whole of sunday). Lisbon is a city of many squares :P. And all of them invariably have a statue of a man on a tall pillar kind of thing. Most often this statue would be on a horse, though sometimes it isn't. The Vasco-da-gama bridge looks something like the Golden gate of SFO (from what I have seen in pictures/tv of the latter) On sat nights, life starts around 12-1am. Thats also the time when the metro ceases to run. By the way, the metro has only 4 lines but each of the station is huge .. really very very spacious. Stranger is that the each of the train stations (normal ones .. not metro) in Lisbon seem to have only one route. That is, all trains from station A go to Sintra, all those from station B go to Cascais and so on.

Then went to Estoril, where the conference was held. Estoril is a town only catering to tourists and vacationers I think. It just contains hotels, restaurants, bars, beaches, marina with yachting and surfing facilities, golf course and a tennis complex where a 'open' was going on while we were there, involving Federer and co. And ofcourse, there was a casino right opposite our hotel which was billed as the biggest in continental europe. The millions of blinking lights of the casino constantly gave me a headache :P.

The conference was held in a 5-star hotel, very posh but barely able to keep up with the huge number of people attending it. Our hotel, a 3-star one was pretty good too with huge double beds, AC, TV and an awesome bathroom all of which was maintained daily by the staff. It was a bit disconcerting when I used to return at night, to not find the towels etc where I had left them in the morning but to see them fresh and neatly arranged and ready for use :-s. Another strange system in Portugal is that the switches are opposite to the general trend. To switch off, we have to press them down and vice versa ..... very confusing :P.

As about the food in Portugal, vegetarians are bound to die of starvation. 4/5ths of the dishes on the menu will be seafood and the rest would be meat (with just 1 chicken item .. invariably grilled chicken). However, I did enjoy all the fish and shrimps, I didn't know I liked seafood but I guess I made good menu choices and only got served the yummy dishes and not the yucky ones :D.
On this note, I should mention that Caipirinha is a good drink :P. Now for the banquet of the conference, it was just awesome! Was held in a very very long wine storage house (Colares wine cellar). Trust me, it took 10 minutes to walk from one end to another and both walls were lined with barrels, some as huge as 15K litres. The banquet itself was a 4 course meal excluding the starters. I guess it was the second 'formal' meal I have ever had, working our way through the forks and knives from outer to inner ones and all that.

After the conference, spent a day touring Sintra, another hillside town seemingly designed for tourists. It had a castle on one mountain peak and a palace on another peak ... both of which were worth the visit. And the return journey had no special technical issues :P. Oh yeah, had a person standing outside the airport arrivals at Heathrow holding a placard with my name on it ;) (since I am the last person to be dropped off by the taxi, they chose my name to book the taxi :P).

Oh, didn't I mention anything about the conference as such? It was an okay affair, I gave the presentation on tuesday morning at 9:30am after being out until 2am the previous night :D and not having prepared after making changes to the ppt a week ago. But despite my unprofessional approach, it went along okay I guess :D. By the way, we also lost the football match 1-4. Now this football match is becoming a tradition at Aamas, Southampton_led_Europe versus USC_led_Rest-of-World. Why did we lose? Our team had such awesome players like me while they had atrocious players like Manish Jain :P.