2015 in Review

I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. – Steve Jobs

2015 was about answering “yes” to that question unhealthily often. It was a good year.

I quitted my job last year to do an MSc in London, but it was mostly just an excuse to spend a year living in a new country, and ticking a few more things off my list of things to do before I die. That turned out to be a very good decision.

I am finally at a point in life where if you tell me I am going to die today, and ask me what I wish I could have done but never did, I would have to think long and hard about it.

Gliding

In the first half of the year, I finally got into gliding with the Imperial College Gliding Club. It’s something I have always wanted to do being a powered airplane pilot, and I’m happy to report that it did not disappoint. We went on quite a few trips to the local airfield (Lasham), as well as a week-long trip to Long Mynd over the Christmas holidays, where we flew an unhealthy amount, and got to try out a really cool launch method. See this post for videos and photos.

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I didn’t end up getting licensed in gliding because gliding is very time-consuming (whole days at the airfield), and unfortunately time is one of the things I don’t have a lot of… it was still amazing, though!

SCUBA Diving

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Thanks to all the fine people in the Imperial College Underwater Club, I was also able to get certified in scuba diving! It was a bit cold, but everyone in the club, especially the instructors, were absolutely amazing! It’s something I definitely plan to keep doing. Somewhere warm?

Judo

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I got orange! I probably should have gotten it a long time ago, if only I didn’t switch dojo every few months.

What’s more important though, is what I learned. I felt like I really made quite a bit of progress in my understanding of Judo this year. I am much more relaxed now when I go into a fight, and can more accurately use my opponents’ force against themselves, which is really what Judo should be about. My fighting style is now much more reactionary (that sounds like a bad thing, but it really isn’t). Instead of always initiating and trying attacks from stable positions, I am starting to be able to let the opponent attack first, recognize weaknesses in their movements or balances, before moving in to attack. That made Judo a whole lot more fun.

Still have lots and lots to learn. Looking forward to another year of Judo!

Musicals!

Imperial College subsidizes musical tickets through the Art Society, and we were able to get tickets to most West End shows for less than £30.

Living in Vancouver, I am used to only be able to watch musicals when they go on tours, and it’s often necessary to book half a year in advance. Living close to West End was really nice. I could watch pretty much anything I wanted, and only had to book a few days in advance.

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It was amazing.

Woodworking

I was in desparate need of an excuse to travel outside of my room during the thesis writing period, so I decided to join a week-long full time course on woodworking and furniture making.

It’s something I have always wanted to learn. I am into DIY and I would say I am pretty good at DIYing electronics stuff (maybe having a degree in that helped?), but I have always sucked at making mechanical stuff, so this was an attempt to fix that.

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We each built a coffee table! I was surprised how much we learned in just one week.

Can’t wait to start building more stuff!

Also, sawing wood is therapeutic.

Backpacking

There was supposed to be a graduation trip, then everyone else bailed. So I ended up going backpacking on my own. It ended up being a whole lot more fun than I ever imagined!

I took about a month to visit Lisbon, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest, staying in hostels and meeting new people every day. I was a bit apprehensive at first, and wasn’t sure if travelling by myself would be a good idea, but it turned out to be probably my best decision of the year!

I wouldn’t go as far as calling it self-discovery, but I did discover a very fun way to travel, and met tons of really cool people and heard tons of really cool stories.

My travel log, if anyone is interested:

Solo Eurotrip, Prelude

Solo Eurotrip, Lisbon Part 1

Solo Eurotrip, Lisbon Part 2

Solo Eurotrip, Prague Part 1

Solo Eurotrip, Prague Part 2

Solo Eurotrip, Vienna Part 1

Solo Eurotrip, Vienna Part 2

Solo Eurotrip, Budapest

Degree, Piece of Paper, and Being (Briefly) Famous

Oh yeah, and I worked on an MSc degree on the side, and got another piece of paper.

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I also discovered my love for machine learning after taking the introductory course, and ended up doing a machine learning project for my thesis… and that’s where the fun started.

I posted my thesis on arXiv, and it was miraculously picked up by MIT Technology Review, which started my approximately 3 weeks of fame. It was reported on by quite a few tech and even mainstream media, and I started getting 10-20 emails from random strangers every day about the project, or their new hot startup. That was unexpected.

It was pretty fun in the beginning, because I am passionate about machine learning, and loved talking about the project. But over time, it became pretty consuming, when I realized I was spending 2 hours a day responding to emails.

I always thought ignoring emails is rude and that I would never do it. Then I started doing it, because there’s just no other way. I couldn’t really afford to spend hours replying to emails everyday. Wouldn’t be able to get anything else done! On the bright side, I am much faster at writing emails now. I’m sure it will be a useful skill later.

The fame left just as quickly as it had come. I was back to my normal level of emails within a few weeks. That’s good. No more feeling guilty about ignoring emails!

One good thing did come out of this whole ordeal, though – a job!

Google DeepMind

Having read a few of their papers during my research, I was really impressed by what they were doing. I didn’t apply there, though, because I thought it was way out of my league, being one of the most famous machine learning labs in the world.

One of their research scientists saw my paper on arXiv, and got me in contact with their recruiter!

We then had a series of Google Hangouts interviews with a bunch of people, including a research scientist, a PM, their research engineering lead, an engineering lead, and one of the founders!

It was a pretty gruelling process totalling to about 10 hours of Hangouts, but although they were all heavy weights in the industry, they were also all very nice and down to earth people, and I really enjoyed talking to them.

It was also a bit scary how smart they are. We talked about my project in one of the interviews with a research scientist. He hadn’t read about it before, and as soon as I am done describing it (it wasn’t a trivial project), he was able to immediately offer a few very helpful insights and things to try, and things to think about. Those are things I never thought of, and I spent a few hours a day working on the project for a few months. That was cool.

I also really enjoyed talking to the founder about more high level ideas in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Really cool insights on how they believe ML will play out in the future, about the nature of intelligence, and possible routes to achieve artificial general intelligence. I don’t think I’m allowed to disclose the details, but it was cool. How often do you get to talk to a founder of a company like DeepMind about AI for half an hour? Not very often for me!

I got an offer in the end!

Next

I didn’t originally plan on returning to the UK, but hey, I am used to making last minute decisions on where to live, and Google isn’t half bad :).

Looks like I’ll be flying back to London next week, and also shipping all my stuff over… most of which I just shipped out of London a few months ago… at least someone else is paying for the shipping this time!

I am not going to write about what I plan to do this year, because looking at my past predictions, it seems like I am terrible at making plans. I do hope it will be as exciting as this year, though!

Love of a Woman?

Who’s got time for that?! 🙂

Sidenote: I decided to try OkCupid recently at a dear friend’s suggestion. After all, I am a machine learning guy. Why not trust machine learning to solve this?

Did not work very well. I don’t like the shotgun approach, so after going through tons of profiles of potential matches, I only sent messages to 2 women. No reply. I do understand that women get a lot of messages on OkCupid, but if I have to write 10 thoughtful messages to get 1 reply… who’s got time for that?!

I am not sure why it worked well for my friend but not me. My guess is it’s because in addition to being very intelligent and humorous, she also happens to be highly conventionally attractive. I did not work as hard and was not as gifted :).

I guess that means it’s back to real world dating for me. Hopefully I’ll have more time this year? Apparently a lot of people (especially men) choose online dating because they are too shy to talk to women. I am not. I have no trouble talking to anyone. I just don’t have the time. Arghhh.

In any case, if you are interested in what a Unsuccessful Application for the Affection of Women looks like, here it is.

By the way, the OkCupid blog is very cool. Lot’s of data analysis and making inferences from data.