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Category Archives: australia

married! Wife., originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird. The past week has pretty much been a blur of writing and crossing things off a pages-long to-do list, but our wedding on Saturday made it all worthwhile. While Vancouver shivered in the cold, we married in blinding sunlight on a beach in Surfers Paradise, Queensland. Janelle walked down the aisle to a string-quartet cover of “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” by The Smiths, the reading was a Mary Oliver poem that seemed to perplex people more than anything, and our vows made people laugh, awwww and cry in the space of about 90 seconds. Then a great house-party reception, complete with kids swimming in the pool, septuagenarian Chinese-Australians talking about gambling in the corner, and plenty of tanned Aussie chicks.

A good day, all told.

I haven’t fully had time to process it all, but Janelle’s immigration application is finally complete and in about 12 hours we’ll be on our way to Kuala Lumpur to begin our extended honeymoon vacation walkabout. It seems amazing how much has happened, and is continuing to happen. Like we’ve crammed three years worth of life-changing experiences into a few weeks. But it feels surprisingly okay, and very right.

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!

Farewell, Canberra. Hello, New Zealand.

Lake Burley Griffin

So long, Canberra, you bird-dominated and oddly quiet little artificial city on an artificial lake.

I went for a jog last night through the city center and saw maybe a dozen people. Somewhere in the distance a band was playing a low-energy cover of David Bowie’s “Heros”. The air was warm and humid and smelled nice, and little blue birds fluttered through the park around Lake Burley Griffin. Somehow, it all kind of summed up the Canberra experience.

I have no idea when I’ll next have internet access and time to blog. Right now, I’m looking forward to a couple of days of being able to relax and play and sleep in.

MLSS ’06

Mlss06-SnipSo, the 2006 Canberra Machine Learning Summer School is winding down. This is the second-last day. The past couple of weeks have been pretty intensive — four two-hour sessions most days, plus my volunteer duties. But I’ve learned a lot. Hearing Bernhard Schölkopf and Alex Smola talk about kernel machines made me bump their book way up on my to-read list, and Olivier Bousquet’s short course on Learning Theory has filled in a few of the many, many gaps in my knowledge.

Probably the most inspirational talk for me, though, was Satinder Singh’s talk about Reinforcement Learning (one of several RL speakers). Not only is he an excellent lecturer, he is very interested in figuring out how to bring Machine Learning (and RL in particular) back from being a kind of “reckless Statistics” to AI, which is something I’ve recently been giving a lot of thought to. So instead of using the framework of Operations Research and Control Theory, he suggests rethinking the ideas we have of states, actions and rewards in an AI framework — using variable times for actions, for example, or using thinking of reward as something internal to an agent rather than it’s environment. So for example, instead of a robot getting a reward for reaching a goal position, it could get rewards for exploring new parts of its environment, or for taking actions that produce unexpected results — being rewarded for acquiring domain knowledge, in other words, even if it’s not directly related to any specific task. And then, once the result of an action is learned sufficiently that the result is no longer surprising, it ceases to be interesting, but the agent maintains that bit of domain knowledge.

I was particularly interested to see Michael Littman’s talk on RL, since I know he has some different views, but unfortunately, he was caught in the blizzard of aught-six and didn’t make it.

I found the most useful part of the school has, however, been talking to the other students, most of whom are around the same point in their academic career as I am, or a year or two further along. Not only do we get to exchange great gossip about our respective supervisors, but it is often a lot easier to learn by discussing things with other students than by being lectured at, and it’s cool to find out about research that’s happening “on the ground”, so to speak, in the labs and grad offices the world over.


As Promised, Pics of Yellow-Headed Canyon Dwellers

the yellow-helmet people

Muchly delayed, but finally up.

Link to photoset.

Also: link to my entire Sydney/Blue Mountains photoset.