International Stopover

By now I probably know my way — blindfolded, with one arm behind my back — to both SFO and SJC. I’ve made five trips to them over a month and a half, all for good reasons, but it’s funny only because I don’t travel that much myself.

It’s not so much the things I was doing as the people I was talking to that made the end of the year so fantastic. My parents came first, and driving them around the Bay showing them things was even more fun than I expected. There’s a specific pleasure that comes from introducing experiences to others and re-introducing them to yourself.

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17 Mile Drive

It was also particularly interesting because I now think of myself as Californian resident — I mean, I work and live here and I pay far more taxes than the rest of the country to enjoy this climate, so I can quite fairly claim that this is my (new) home. But it was curious to have my parents, under whose roof I’ve been for so long, to come to somewhere that I knew well instead.

A couple days after the parents left I was on a flight to Montreal, on a semi-surprise trip to attend a deep learning conference. I say semi-surprise because I knew I was going, but only 3 weeks beforehand — which is certainly at the tail end of the planning that everyone else was doing. I was mostly at the recruiting table so I also got chance to talk to people to stopped by and actually wanted to talk to me about what they were working on. I’m brand new to the field — in fact, I don’t have any theoretical background in it at all, so everything is exciting (except differentiating matrices; that’s still terrifying) — so practically everything is a revelation. At this point using machine learning to predict inventory is, while exciting, practically old hat. Using deep learning techniques for stock market predictions has been done for a while. And people have been moving into health care applications of machine learning, which is even more interesting. I heard of a number of applications, from genetic testing to modeling tumors in the body.

Though most of the seriously theoretical content went over my head, I had some assurance in the fact that most people didn’t understand everything either. The impression I got was that the field had grown so much that no one could possibly be acquainted with all the subdivisions, even when they were re-discovering mathematic techniques that had been invented decades ago.

And then of course, it being Montreal and me being surrounded by colleagues who travel and enjoy themselves when they can, things like a vegetarian eight course tasting menu happened…

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I might be bragging just a tad.

Right after I got back from Montreal I left for Singapore. In fact, I almost missed the flight when I was delayed in the logistical cesspool that is Los Angeles airport, but I made to the flight with plenty of time to spare. This was the surprise trip I made to see my brother, and there’s photographic evidence of his sheer shock at seeing me. Mission accomplished.

It was wonderful to do nothing except hanging out with him, eating food, talking about random things and watching the occasional House of Cards episode. The kid even took me to a vegetarian sushi place (verdict: they tried and mostly succeeded) which was impressive.

When I came back from Singapore — traveling back was somehow easier; I think the jetlag just gave up — I had a couple of days to clean up before one of my best friends from Singapore visited.

I’m privileged to have a bunch of close friends whom I can just trust, completely. They are the kind of people whom I’ll go weeks or months without speaking to, and just pick up again like we never stopped seeing each other. This friend was one of those, so we mostly spent our time recuperating from the year. I think we both nearly cried with relief when we discovered that all we both wanted to do was eat, catch up and laugh at the TV.

It was an excellent Christmas despite the cold that sneaked up on me during those four days. The weather was chilly but serene, and we got a few hours to see San Francisco before she returned. There aren’t really any pictures; neither of us is the selfie taking type, and we were having too much fun just talking.

Of all the ways I could’ve ended my year, this was the best — if not the most relaxing — couple of months. l’ve had more interesting and productive and fulfilling and even empowering conversations with people, some of whom I’ve known my whole life, and some with total strangers, than I’ve had the rest of the year. You can’t really ask for more than that.

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