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Category Archives: travel

Bye, Van!


rainbow silhouette, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

Melbourne and back


suit, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

Melbourne is the first Australian city I’ve visited where I really thought I could live.

Lest that come off snobby, let me explain. Well, yes, I’m a snob but really? Sydney? Canberra? Sydney is too big and freeway-strewn and aggro, and Canberra is just kind of weird with all it’s government buildings and legal prostitution. I’m on the verge of graduating and considering my future career options, as is my lovely and Australian Janelle, and as much as I love Vancouver, I’ve been here a while. A change of scenery, well, it’s an option. However, I’m really not a person motivated solely by career. First and foremost, I want to live in a place I want to live. Melbourne seems like a place I could want to live.

As a city on the other side of the world where everybody has odd accents and roughly 90% of the architecture dates to the Victorian period, it’s different enough from Vancouver (or my last city, Toronto) that I feel like I would be getting a new experience. But it’s also not unfamiliar. It’s bustling and vibrant, with yuppies, hipsters, immigrants and middle-class families rubbing shoulders. The combination of broad streets and countless twisting laneways — an artifact of the 19th century gold rush and subsequent real estate bubble that made Melbourne the richest city in the world and second-biggest in the Empire — makes it walkable, colourful and gives rise to a truly impressive tram network. Tasty, cheap ethnic food abounds, even if the Vietnamese restaurants all call phở “noodle soup” and bánh mì “Vietnamese rolls”. It has a really strong art scene (and street art scene) and a lively pub culture, complete with dozens of trivia nights around the city (go Team “Throw Another Ken on the Barbie”! We would have totally kicked ass if it weren’t for the $12 jugs of beer!). The people seem to all be either friendly or entertainingly pretentious. In a way, it combines a lot of my favourite aspects of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, with a dash of junior-league London for good measure.

And it seem like a place where I could get a job. Maybe.

Anyway, after a couple of overnight flights broken up by a 17-hour layover in a Taiwanese airport, I’m back in Van now, and you know what that means! Pictures!

travels


One day, I’d like to take a trip where I have time to chat, sit in pubs and write up my journals of where I am and what I’m doing. I’ll be pithy, worldly and insightful, kind of a combination of Bill Bryson, Michael Palin and Nick Danziger. This is not that day.

Commence info dump in 3… 2… 1…

tower with bird, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

Paris, France

This was my first trip to Europe and I liked it more than I thought I would. Paris in particular, which I was prepared to find smug and overrated. Instead, it was attractive, clean and charming. Not the most forward-looking place I’ve ever been, but not the theme park I was afraid it would be, either. I didn’t even find Parisians rude or anything, just kind of stand-offish, which, as a kind of stand-offish guy myself, I’m totally okay with. I’ll definitely go back to France at some point, though I might try to take a French class first — my Canadian cereal-box French let me read signs and order in restaurants, but as soon as anyone tried to talk to me, I had to throw myself on their mercy, or more likely, just having my French speaking frère Tyson step in. And it really is a beautiful city. One night Tyson and I were strolling through the Champ de Mars by the Eiffel Tower, with the tower lit up and vendors selling bottles of wine in the park. I turned to Tyson: “our girlfriends will be soooo freaking jealous.”

Oh, also, the catacombs are really cool. And the Eiffel Tower. Even the Louvre has it’s good points, though the Mona Lisa isn’t one of them.

Madrid by Night, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

Madrid, Spain

Madrid was cool, but the 38+ degree heat during the day got old fast. At least the city is one of these winding old European cities where everything is a twisting lane. Bad for navigation, but good for shade. Even better for shade is just to spend the afternoon indoors and go out in the evening, when the old city really comes to life. Spain may have 20% unemployment, but the bars and restaurants are pretty full. Didn’t hurt that the night after my talk was simultaneously the pride parade (the biggest in Europe), and Spain’s victory over Paraguay.

Neither Ty or I speaks any Spanish, so getting around was harder than Paris, but fortunately on our first day Nando introduced us to the Mercado de San Miguel — a gigantic indoor market full of little stalls selling tapas, empanadas and sweets, and glasses of wine, sangria and beer, all for 1 to 3 euros a pop. Not only ridiculously cheap due to the collapse of the euro (thanks, Greece!), but it reduces browsing the menu to just pointing and knowing the words “Este, por favor. Dos.” (Even Paris was cheap, by the way. Dining out in there is probably less expensive than Vancouver at this point.)

North Burleigh Beach, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

Gold Coast, Australia

Then, it was so long Europe and Tyson, and hello Australia and Janelle (well, after thirty-odd hours in planes and airports it was). I’m on the Gold Coast now, Janelle’s home town. Pretty relaxing, but the entire city has a little bit of a vibe like a vacation town in the off-season. Which it kind of is, it being the middle of winter here. Our apartment was about 30m from the beach, so every day, I got to go for a run and watch the surfers. Lots of hanging out with Janelle’s friends and family, too, including a CRUSHING victory at the local pub trivia quiz night (Go, Occademics!). Also, some really nice trips to nearby Tambourine Mountain and Byron Bay. Internet situation has not been great, though. I was mostly reduced to the painfully slow, but free, McDonald’s wifi, since the rare coffee shops with wifi charge around $10/hour (!). However, McDonald’s here also serves some pretty good coffee (!!). Their flat whites are quite tasty. Such are my observations on international wifi availability and the differences between local and overseas McDonald’s (or, in Australian, “Maccas”). See? Travel does expand one’s horizons.

Up next: Melbourne. Specifically, Fitzroy. Good coffee, cheap ethnic food and hipstery shops in old Victorian buildings. I have a feeling I’ll like Melbourne. Plus, the film festival is on, and unlike the last couple years of the VIFF, there are actually a bunch of flicks I want to see. (On the minus side, though, it’s also the most expensive film festival I’ve ever been to. No wonder nothing’s sold out yet.)

traveller


Eric versus the Arc de Triomphe, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

A full report will have to wait until I have more time and internets, but hey, yeah, I made it through Europe unscathed except for a couple of nasty blisters. I enjoyed bobo Paris more than a snarky small-town Canadian really should, Madrid was effing hot during the day, but great at night, and Germany, well, I spent a lot of time in German airports and they were fairly efficient, so there’s that.

I’m in Australia now, where it’s actually possible to get free wifi, but time is short, so… more later.

[Brochu, Brochu and de Freitas, 2010]


I’m a little late in posting this, but I managed to get accepted to the 2010 Symposium on Computer Animation with my paper, “A Bayesian Interactive Optimization Approach to Procedural Animation Design”! I’ve added the pre-print PDF to my publications page, and there’s even a video, which explains the whole thing in under five minutes (with no math). So lest anyone question what a Machine Learning person is doing trying to get into a computer animation conference, behold!

I’m pretty happy about getting this accepted for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a big part of my thesis, so getting it accepted to a good venue is a major step toward finally graduating. And second, it means a free trip to Madrid to present it! Hopefully I’ll be mostly finished writing my thesis by that time (early July), so I’ve already booked a bit of an extended tour that takes me to Paris for a few days before the conference and lets me stay in Madrid for a couple of days afterward. My brother-slash-coauthor Tyson gets to go, too, so that should be fun. Especially as he actually speaks French, so he can deal with any potentially snotty Parisians for me.

After that, it’s off to Australia to visit Janelle. I’ll be flying in and out of Brisbane, which is cool, but we’ll also be spending a good chunk of time in Melbourne, which I’m stoked about. From all accounts it’s a really cool city. I’m imagining it as kind of a mix of the best aspects of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Will I be disappointed? Don’t worry, I’ll let you know.

I’m also hoping to talk to people in Melbourne in the research community (for start-ups in particular, but in general, too), so if you happen to know anybody, or know anybody who knows anybody, or you are that anybody, you know what to do.