Thursday, November 22, 2007

To Eat Turkey and Rest

Thanksgiving Turkey(Title sounds better in Hebrew)

Today is the 4th Thursday of November, which means Thanksgiving Day is celebrated throughout the United States. This is the day where Americans celebrate their conquest over the native Americans ("Indians"). This is the most family-inclined of all US vacations, and most people use this holiday to meet with their families and eat together, similar to the Jewish Passover.

As a tribute to this togetherness, the family I live with have invited me to join their Thanksgiving celebrations. I got to meet many members of their family in their house in Palo Alto. They have invited me for dinner as well, but I have already booked dinner at Stanford.

The Stanford dinner included Turkey and mashed potatoes. I met there someone I have met while walking "the dish" on one of my first days here.

Tomorrow is Black Friday. While in most cultures calling a day "Black" implies a negative context, Black Friday actually celebrates the most American tradition of them all: Shopping. The use of the word "black" comes from the fact that retailers start making profit, and thus are "in the black" after this day. It turns out that the day after Thanksgiving marks the start of the US Winter Holiday Season, and specifically the shopping season before Christmas. Many retailers have sales on this day, and unless your are shopping-crazed it's advised that you stay home, which is exactly what I plan to do.

Monday, November 19, 2007

To the city

View from Vista point on I-280Yesterday, was my birthday, and my friend Jesse and I went over to "the city" known as San Francisco. At start, I drove and she navigated (with the aid of my friend Miss GPS). We went to see city hall and the opera house, then to Japantown and ate an American lunch. The next stop on our journey was Coit Tower (nothing to do with the radio station KOIT).

Here we switched places, with Jesse driving and me navigating, and didn't get much out of the car. We saw the palace of fine arts, and the golden gate bridge. The route took us by the Pacific shore, though we couldn't see anything due to heavy fog. At this point we decided to head back home. We ate dinner at a nice pie restaurant and back to Jesse's house where we saw the movie Garden State.

Pictures from the Tour

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Happy Birthday to me!

49 mile driveNovember 18th is my birthday, which is tomorrow. My plans for my birthday is to go with my friend to San Francisco and act like tourists. Specifically, we plan to take the 49 mile scenic drive all around the city. If you want to greet me, comment here, or use the info in the about page.

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Stanford Football StadiumAmericans love sport. They simply define it differently than the rest of the world. According to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, sport is defined as:
Physical activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively.

In American popular culture however, the idea of physical activity does not really exist. For most Americans, sports are somet/hing you watch not something you do.

This relates to the true aim of US colleges and universities: To house sports teams for people to watch. Research is what they do behind people's backs when they're busy watching sports.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, yesterday I decided to go to the pool I heard was open at Stanford. I looked through Stanford's athletics website and found no relevant information. You see, the athletics website is for people who want to watch sports. So, there is information about events and how to buy tickets. Even when you do locate the page about the pool (or "aquatic center") there is no information about using the pool. Why would there? Athletic facilities are for varsity athletes and people coming to see them.

Anyway, after finding the much more obscure site for Stanford recreation and wellness, I found the very limited opening hours of the pool, and headed there yesterday afternoon. What a mistake I have made. Stanford was full of cars, all parking lots in the north side of the campus were full, a high school located just off campus sold parking for $10. All this on a Saturday. Why? Because there was a football game, and when I say football, I mean the strange American sport similar to rugby.

So, I decided to try again today (Sunday). I arrived and parked my car and headed at first in the wrong direction. It seems Stanford has stadiums for many strange sports, and they are all used by the few select athletes who compete in that sport. Same goes for the aquatic center. It is clear that is was designed for training and competition, and not for recreational use. One pool is surrounded by audience seating and the only open pool is also designed for competition. It is deep almost all way across, with no shelf in the deeper end, and with ladders only in the shallow end. On the other hand, there are jump boards all around the pool and a big scoreboard. There is no clock anywhere around the pool, but there are many timers all around the pool.

So, after a few laps of swimming, I head back home. I'm not sure if I'd be returning there any time soon.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Quake 5.6

5.6 Magnitude EarthquakeYesterday night, I have felt an earthquake of magnitude 5.6 on the Richter scale. At the time, I was playing boardgames in Mountain View and all the tables started moving slightly and then stopped. No damage or injury was caused by the earthquake, but immediately people called their friends on cellphones to check on them and to tell them they are OK. I didn't call because it was 4 AM in Israel. I decided I'll blog on it when I get home. When I did get home, I started writing this post, but I fell asleep due to jet lag.

In other news, I'm giving a talk today at the group lunch as the person who was planned to talk today had to cancel. I'm giving the same talk I gave at Dagstuhl, so it should be easy for me.

Friday, October 26, 2007

My talks at Dagstuhl

My Dagstuhl Nametag (October 2007)Yesterday I have given my planned talk at the Dagstuhl seminar about Selection Games and Deterministic Lotteries ( it's always good to have an oxymoron in your titles). The talk went well and people were quite interested, given that many of the reviewers in the AAMAS conference where I submitted this paper were in the audience, I think my chances are good.

However, what I really wanted to talk about are the talks I gave today. Today we had a rump session, which is a special session where anyone can give 5 minute talks on any topic he or she wishes. Out of six talks, I gave two. One of the talks was about my work-in-progress regarding the manipulation of academic conferences.

The second talk of mine was humorous, and talked about manipulating the seating arrangements in Dagstuhl. Recall that researchers are seated randomly for meals in order to facilitate communication. My talk was a joke about this issue. If you are interested, take a look at the talk slides, posted exclusively on my blog. The issues of Manipulation, Bribery and Control are common considerations in the world of voting, all photos were taken during the seminar with my iPAQ camera.

Now I'm back at my brother's house until Sunday when I am going to fly FRA-EWR-SFO and return to Stanford.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A paper with Vince

Dagstuhl Seminar group pictureI am having a good time at Dagstuhl Seminar 07431 on Computational Issues in Social Choice. Almost all talks are very interesting and I had some good conversations with some of the people here.

On Tuesday there was an open discussion about complexity of voting. While participating in this discussion, it became clear to me that there is something very wrong with most of the existing works on complexity of manipulating elections, and only very few papers dealt with the problem in the approach I consider more correct.

[If you are not interested in details about my research, skip the next two paragraphs]

It turned out that the principal authors of two of these papers are here at the seminar. I spent the night* between Tuesday and Wednesday thinking about this problem, and on Wednesday morning I had a developed idea. After telling Vince about it, he reminded me of the general Gibbard theorem, a corollary of which removes any hope of pursuing my crypto idea.

So, I let go of the crypto direction, and instead considered voting under partial information. There was limited work done on the subject, and I had some good ideas on how to model the problem. On Wednesday after lunch I got Vince interested, and together we managed to prove two interesting impossibility results and have some very important observations regarding this problem. As it seems, this work is on the way to become a paper.

I am very happy to be able to write a joint paper with Vince Conitzer.  I have known him since the first conference I attended in my PhD, which, as luck may have it, was a Dagstuhl seminar. Since then, I have met him in every conference I have attended. He has published over 40 papers, even though he has just recently finished his PhD, some of them with groundbreaking results.

* The reason I am working nights is my partial adaptation to jet lag, I go to sleep after dinner at 19:00 and wake up at about 3:00, I get enough sleep and don't miss any talks, even though I don't really live in the right timezone.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Abflug nach Deutschland

Approximate flight path to Frankfurt(that is, departure to Germany for those of you who don't know German)

Yes, I'm flying again, this today my itinerary is SFO-IAH-AMS-FRA (that's San Francisco, Houston, Amsterdam, Frankfurt), and then a train to Saarbruecken. The plan is to fly to Germany for a conference and visit my brother on the way. I'm going to be there for 10 days. I'm all packed (well, except my laptop) and in an hour I'll be boarding the shuttle to the airport to start my journey.

In order to qualify for platinum I need about 3000 more miles. If I do not get any other trip funded this year, I'm considering doing a mileage run to West Palm Beach or to Boston. In the case of Boston, I might want to stay there for up to a week. Honolulu is also an option, although more expensive and with less miles.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Yahoo! Games

Yahoo! GamesOn Monday I spent my evening playing board games at Yahoo! If you are thinking I spent my time staring at a computer screen, then you are wrong. I drove to Yahoo's campus in Sunnyvale (about 16 minutes from my house) and joined a meeting of South Bay Boardgamers, a group that meets every Monday on Yahoo!'s campus to play board games.

Today I played Vegas Showdown and Clippers. The former has (surprisingly enough) nothing to do with gambling (but a lot to do with bidding), and the latter features ships of different colors that do not belong to any of the players. Both games were interesting and full of strategy (Clippers more so).

This is the second time I attend such a meeting (last time it was Silicon Valley Boardgamers). In both times I've learned new games I've never seen before. I'm enjoying myself very much here.

Monday, October 15, 2007


DMV logoToday I got a license. Not for software, but a driver's license. As of today, I am a fully licensed driver in the state of California. As I have mentioned earlier, I had to pass both a written and a driven exam. Today I passed the driven exam and immediately got a temporary license.

My plastic license will be mailed in 10 days, and then I will be just like any American with a Social Security Number, credit and debit card, and a driver's license. I can't vote and don't have a US passport, but then again, most Americans don't vote or have a passport either.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

I see dead people

Body WorldsToday was a Saturday, and in the US most things are still open on Saturday, so I decided to go to the Tech museum in San Jose, which was recommended to me by several people at Stanford.

The Tech by itself is an average science museum, not too impressive. However, now at The Tech there is a temporary exhibition called Body Worlds 2. This special exhibition shows real bodies of dead people who were preserved using a special technique called plastination. The exhibiion shows full bodies and body parts and demonstrates the structure and function of various organs in the human body.

The most stunning part of this exhibition were various diseased organs, such as kidneys with tumors, smokers' lungs, and aortas with fatty residue. I have less enjoyed the bodies places in various poses, as I do not think these poses serve a real scientific purpose, but only have artistic merit.

After completing the body exhibition, I returned to the main museum and toured the permanent exhibitions. The exhibitions were quite standard science museum exhibitions, though I liked the fact that many exhibitions allowed you to view stuff online after your visit. For example, here is me caught red-handed by a thermal camera (click to enlarge):

Thermal image of me

Update: Here are some glowing bacteria I have made:

Glowing Bacteria

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

New gallery and pictures from Mexico

I am experimenting with some photo gallery software. I have just installed Gallery on my hosted server and uploaded my pictures from Mexico including pictures taken by the other travellers on the trip to the pyramids.

You can visit the gallery site at I will probably upload more photos later.

You can also try an experimental map showing where some pictures were taken using GPS coordinates.

Errand day

After returning from Mexico, I had a lot of things to take care of. I got lots of mail in my office: A new miniSD card and a new SIM for my iPAQ, an American Express credit card, a and VISA debit card. I also had to print a paper I have to review and read a backlog of Hebrew e-mails I couldn't read on my iPAQ (I still have a backlog of blog posts to read).

After taking care of all that in Stanford and eating lunch, I headed for the Social Security office in Redwood City. After I few wrong turns I have finally arrived and had to wait in line for about an hour, so I read the paper I have brought with me. When my turn finally arrived, I submitted the form and was told I'd get a social security card that's valid for employment in six weeks, however the number will remain the same.

Two blocks from there is a California DMV office, where I applied for a driver's license and passed the written exam (with only one mistake). I was issued a temporary license on the spot and scheduled a driven test for two weeks later.

After finishing these errands, I returned to Stanford and joined another event of the Stanford Jewish community, held in the Sukkah. There I met another new post-doc (only a week here) that knew me from FishEye. I told him some useful information about getting a car and a driver's license and we exchanged e-mails.

The event ended at 9pm, and it was just time to go see House on FOX. It seems that the TV method of seeing shows has the major disadvantage of having commercial breaks interleaved with the show, however you can see shows only 3 hours late (we're on the west coast) and before they arrive on file sharing.

Today I came to the office early as I forgot the charger of my iPAQ and my battery has run out. I'm still waiting for the extended battery I ordered to arrive. No special plans for today, though I do plan to begin doing actual research.

P.S. check out the posts from Mexico, as I have added links and pictures.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Some facts about Meixco

Flag of MexicoMexico is a federal state, and its capital is located in a special federal district.

They are somewhat short on names: The country, the capital, and one of the states all share the same name: Mexico.

The Mexicans call their capital "Ciudad de Mexico" which translates to English as "Mexico City".

Many companies here are called something-mex: The phone company Telmex, the bank Banamex and the gas station Pemex.

They use the $ sign to designate Pesos (worth about 10 cents) and sometimes the prices still look reasonable even in US dollars.

They use the letter E to designate Parking.

Mexico's major international airport in Mexico City is inside the city limits.

And finally, when they say San Francisco here, they refer to the saint, not the city, unless you're flying there, like I am.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


View from the top of the Latin America TowerI am sitting now in the botanical garden inside the palace of the president of Mexico. Today I am walking through the historical center of Mexico City. I have seen the city from the top of the Latin America tower, saw some ancient cathedrals, and then arrived at the great central square of Mexico City - the Zokalo (base).

This huge central square is surrounded by important federal buildings. All sides are decorated with the Mexican flag and symbol. One of these buildings is the president's palace, where I am now sitting after a short guided tour of the impressive frescos in this building.

This following is being written back at the hotel.

After touring the palace I continued to the Templo Mayor - the ruins of the grand temple of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan and the associated museum. It was very interesting to learn about the pre-Spanish history and the Spanish invasion.

Afterwards I had a short visit in the museum of culture and then headed back to the hotel through the many street vendors. I even bought some stuff I need.

Tomorrow I have only a short time here as my flight departs at 15:27 and it can take 45 minutes to get to the airport.

Next post will probably be from California unless I get WiFi at MEX.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Native American fun

Pyramid of the MoonAfter landing in Mexico City I took the subway to my hotel (only $0.20 for the ticket!). I put my stuff there and went to the National Museum of Anthropology. The museum had reconstructions of ancient American cultures and original artifacts. I returned to my hotel early because I was tired.

Today I took a tour to the pyramids of Teotihuacan (I pulled that name out of a hat.... I bought the hat there). The site features two great pyramids for the sun and moon and many smaller pyramid-shaped altars. These pyramids were built by the Aztecs on a site where a more ancient civilization once lived.

This ancient civilization built palaces and mined the volcanic obsidian stone. I bought a small souvenir from this stone and a nice pyramid-shaped key chain.

On the way back we ate lunch at a restaurant with a view of the pyramids and now we're headed back to the hotel.

Our group consisted of four people: A man on business from Venezuela, a couple from Argentina and Texas, and myself. The couple had cameras and took photos for all of us, which they will later e-mail us or post online. I took several pictures with my iPAQ as well, and I plan to post those later.

Tomorrow I will probably walk around the historic center. I'm quite tired now so I will probably rest in this evening.

Friday, September 28, 2007

iPAQ & I pack

HP iPAQ hw6945Yesterday the HP iPAQ I have ordered from eBay has arrived unexpectedly to my office. It was not expected because the US postal service website did not update the details of the delivery.

So, what is this iPAQ you ask. Well, it is a mobile PC slightly larger than a mobile phone. My model includes a full QWERTY keyboard and a touch screen and supports WiFi, cellular, GPS, and bluetooth. It can also hold up to 2GB of flash and be used to surf the web, play music and videos, and to write notes (such as this blog post).

The last day was mostly spent playing with this new toy. The other things I did were send my laptop for warranty service (LCD problems) and pack for my trip to Mexico City. I am writing this post from the Delta crown room in San Francisco airport.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

New car, new friends

My CarI haven't updated in some time. You don't have to worry. I'm doing fine. Yesterday I picked up my brand new blue 2008 Toyota Yaris, all paid for and insured. So now I have a car and a place to live. I got a good deal on the car and paid only $16,300 for it including all taxes.

Today I bought a parking permit for the car, so now I can actually park on campus. I also finally got my student number and ID card, and my network ID, so now I can use my laptop anywhere on campus.

I have done other stuff this weekend. On Sunday I went on a short hike to "the dish", a radio-telescope here at Stanford and made some new friends from all over the world.

I was also told about a BBQ at the Jewish center here at Stanford on Monday night so I went there as well. Many nice people, very few Israelis there. After the BBQ party, they aired the first episode of season 2 of Heroes on a big screen, so I stayed to watch.

Next post I'll talk about the wonders of eBay.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Residential Address

Good news: I have found a place to stay!

Today I started my search for a less temporary place to stay and I immediately found one. The chepest place available answered and had all what I need (bed, electricity, wifi) and for only $450/month. It's also a short 12 minute drive from my office. After several calls to the landlord and my parents I decided to go for it, without seeing any other places. The room was so cheap because I am barred from any kind of cooking in the room. However, with the money I saved I can eat out every day if I want to. All in all, I think I struck a great deal.

My residential address, if you would like to send me mail, is:
Alon Altman
256 Walter Hays Dr.
Palo Alto, CA 94303

Yesterday I went to Stanford's compulsory postdoc orientation meeting. In this useless 2.5 hour meeting, we were explained a lot of practical information I have already read online. I didn't even get my student ID number, as the postdoc office did not receive all my information on time. I also went to the weekly meeting of Yoav's group and got introduced to all the other researchers in the team.

Later that day, I went to the social security office to get my card replaced to one that is valid for employment. They told me that I must arrive after the start date of my program, which is October 1st.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Office 2007

Yesterday was my first full day here. In the morning I went to eat breakfast at McDonald's, guided by my trusted navigation system. The first McD I went to was closed, so I went to another one which was open.

After breakfast I returned to the motel, and figured out I somehow managed to lose my room key. In any case, I decided to go on line and plan the rest of my day. It was still early to go to the International Center at Stanford, so I decided to go to see a new car for sale. I called the person I've been in touch with at the dealership and set an appointment for an hour later. The price he quoted at the dealership was too high for my parent's taste, so I did not yet buy the car.

From the dealership I made my way to Stanford, ate lunch, and went on to get my temporary ATM card and visit the Int'l center for an orientation. Then, I drove to the CS faculty and met with the administrator there. I signed lots of forms to be on payroll and got signed up for an orientation meeting today. Then, I went to see Yoav -- the professor I'll be working with. Even though he was not expecting me, he took the time to give me a short tour of the faculty and have his assistant assign me an office and give me a key. Now I have an address where I can get mail! The address is:
Alon Altman
Gates Computer Science
353 Serra Mall, room 258
Stanford, CA 94305

After arranging all that, I went back to the hotel room and on line. I had a chat with my friend whom I met in Hawaii and met up with her for dinner. I really enjoyed it.

Overall, I feel good and even though getting settled is hard, I think I'm doing pretty well. Today will be another day at Stanford and I hope to start looking for places to stay tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Today I flew to Stanford. To stay. Here is my story.

I flew with KLM with a connection at Amsterdam Schiphol airport. At Amsterdam, I tried to get admitted to the lounge even though I was not upgraded to business, and did not yet technically qualify for Gold. As I only had 600 miles less than needed, I was granted lounge access. At the lounge I asked for a temporary gold card and they decided to issue one for me even though I did not yet qualify for gold. The actual gold card will be sent to Israel in about a month, and then I'll ask my parents to forward it here.

On the 747 flight to San Francisco, I enjoyed the best seat on the plane (11F), however when I tried to use the space in front of the seat to sleep in my sleeping bag, a flight attendant told me this is not allowed, so I had to sleep in my seat. I spent most of my time on the plane reading a book I bought and trying to sleep.

We arrived in SFO 10 minutes late, and I was among the first to exit the plane, even before some business class passengers. I rushed to passport control and was admitted without waiting in line at all. The J-1 admission process was longer than usual but I still arrived at the baggage claim area before any luggage came out. After some time, both my suitcases arrived and an airport employee helped me take them off the belt and onto my trolley.

After baggage claim, I took the AirTrain to the car rental building and waited in line. After a short while I got my contract and navigation system and was told to go to the garage and take any compact car. The only problem was, there weren't any. After 30 minutes of asking several employees in the garage and back outside, I was told to take a midsize car instead. The midsize car was huge. I had no problem loading all the luggage in the backseat and the trunk and installing the navigation system. Finding how to adjust the seat, however, took some time.

After all these adjustments, I entered my destination (Wells Fargo bank at Stanford) and started driving out of the airport garage. For some reason, the navigation system did not update and stayed stuck at the airport. I discovered this only when I was in the middle of an 8-lane road going somewhere I didn't know. Luckily, there was a traffic jam and I managed to restart the navigation system, which proceeded to recalculate my route and direct me to the bank. I used that traffic jam also to figure out how to close the windows in this car, which is not as simple as it seems.

When the navigation system told me I have arrived, I noticed a large parking lot, so naturally I parked the car there. I saw parking ticket sales machines so I tried to pay for the parking, but it turned out no change was given and the smallest bill I had was $10. So, I decided to head for the bank without paying for parking.

After asking several people and looking around, I finally managed to locate Wells Fargo bank, which were delighted to have me open an account with them. They filled in some forms for me and told me my account will be ready in 15 minutes. So, I changed my $10 bill into ones and went to pay for the parking, just as I paid $1 for the ticket, some girl there told me I don't have to pay for parking after 4pm. So I headed back to the bank and picked up all the forms and information required to transfer money and also deposited most of my cash.

After finishing with the bank, I went to a small convenience store nearby and bought something to drink. I forgot to mention that while driving I managed to hurt my finger and start bleeding, and since the landing in SFO I had developed a headache, so it was quite hard concentrating on renting the car and opening the account.

With the more important errand settled I could now drive to the motel. I keyed in the address to the navigation system and drove directly to there. I did have to figure out I had to turn into a side street in order to park, though.

I checked in at the motel and paid for 5 nights ($302.5). The room is very small and has almost no closet space, but has hi-speed wireless Internet, a queen-size bed, and a shower and toilet. I brought my luggage into the room, plugged in my laptop and went on line to check email and make some local calls. Then I went to sleep at about 18:30.

I woke up today at 4:30 am, headache free, and ready to start a new day. My plan for this day: blog, unpack, make a plan. Probably I'll go to Stanford and start settling stuff there.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Last hour in Israel

I am writing this post from Tel Aviv Ben Gurion international airport, in the VIP lounge awaiting my departure to Amsterdam and then to the US.  A few hours ago I said goodbye to both my parents. My father has escorted me all the way to the security gate and helped me carry all my luggage. Now I'm all alone and will remain away from my homeland for seven long months. That's it there's no going back now.

My last day was spent on meeting with a friend, last-minute shopping (shoes), packing, watching some TV, and helping my father with his computer.

It turns out the packing was really optimal. All three bags (two checked and one handbag) were exactly 1/2kg less than the maximum weight allowed.

In  other news, a MD-81 plane has crashed in Phuket, Thailand (HKT). The plane was operated by Two go airlines, and the crash was probably weather related. We'll know more when the investigation report is published. I'm looking forward to another great episode of Air Crash Investigation.

This blog will follow my process of settling down in my new home in the United States and as a means of communication will all of you - my friends back home. In order to make this communication two-way, please do comment with suggestions and encouragement, as well as chatting with me on line.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Tomorrow I’ll be gone

All packed and ready to go (not!)Tomorrow will be my last day in Israel before my big move. Almost everything is packed, the room is clean, and soon I'll be dining a last supper with all of my friends (and it's not even Passover).

I have spent the last few days packing all my stuff, both the stuff that's going with me to the states (three suitcases) and the stuff that stays here (two boxes and several drawers).

Tomorrow I will do some last-minute shopping and laundry and finalize all the packing. My flight leaves at 04:30 on Monday instead of 05:30 due to the fact that Israel ending daylight savings time tonight while Europe will keep on DST until October 28th.

Interestingly enough the US will do the DST move on November 4th. This means that will move my watch backwards by one hour three times the same year (Israel, Europe, and USA).


Now playing: Eagle-Eye Cherry - Save Tonight

Sunday, September 9, 2007

One week to go!

The D-day is getting closer and closer. In one week my life as I know it is going to end, and I'm going to start my new life in Stanford. There is no way back now.

This week I spent mostly on configuring the computer setup at home for the to allow for operation without me physically maintaining it. I have also consolidated hardware from three computers into one server with five hard disks and almost a terabyte of storage.

I still have so many things to do. I have still not closed a deal on the car, haven't even started packing, and still need to buy new shoes, get a haircut, and finish writing a paper before I leave.

Yesterday there was also the family farewell party (it seems many people will be abroad next week, so we did it a week early). We went to Canibar and ate burgers with two of my brothers, parents, and neighbors...

Next week I will hold a farewell party for friends on Saturday 15/9 around 17:00 in El Gaucho Kiryat Motzkin. If you did not receive an invitation by mail and would like to come please e-mail me (party at and I'll add you to the list.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Mexico City - Here I come

Mexico City SkylineIn a previous post I talked about my frequent flyer miles plan for this year, and referred to the topic of a Mileage Run. This weekend I decided to make good on my plans and go on a weekend vacation to Mexico City practically free of charge.

How could I do that? Easy. I started by booking a flight from San Francisco to Mexico city via Atlanta on Delta airlines for $323 including tax and three nights in a hotel for $111 including tax. On the savings side of the equation are four nights in a bay area hotel which costs $220, 12,143 award miles and 6,939 status miles. The award miles are equivalent to half a one-way flight from Tel Aviv to San Francisco. If priced part of a return ticket this is worth about $200. So in all, I pay $434 and save $420. I also save on food due to visits to the airline lounges and on all expenses when I'm in Mexico City.

Anyway, the dates are 27/9 - 1/10/2007. On line updates will be posted.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

All the family

Simpsons FamilyThis weekend all my family was united. My parents have returned from their trip to China, my brother has also arrived from Germany, in what turned out to be the single busiest day in Ben-Gurion airport ever.

We had a surprise ready for our parents when they returned from abroad.  With the help and planning of the neighbor,  we have invited a gardener to make a new front lawn and garden.

The next day, the entire family (including my younger brother and the older brother that lives in Hertzeliya) have gathered for a family dinner.

On the organizational front, I'm also pushing forward. I have cleared up some of the mess in my room and have begun sorting all the paper. I have also booked my flight to Germany in October (18-28/10; 13,582 miles). Next step - sort and file all non-paper, and begin packing.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

One month to go

That's it. The final countdown. I have less than a month left till I leave for Stanford. So, what am I doing these days? I'm sick and tired, that is, I'm ill and fatigued. Probably the common cold. It started mildly, but now I really can't do anything useful, like grade exercises or write papers.

There are still many things to be done in the upcoming month. My parents will return from China next week and will help with the non-academic organizational matters. Until then, I'll remain in bed until I feel better.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Ph.D. CertificateYesterday I paid and got a letter confirming that I have completed all requirements of my degree and faxed that letter to Stanford.

I am not used to not having dorms nor an office, but having a car, so I didn't bring all that I needed. Specifically, I didn't bring my laptop. As I had an event that evening I had to burn most of the day. I decided to go to the pool (even though I forgot to bring my pool card) and swim a bit.

After the pool I went to the CS faculty hoping to meet some friends. Which I did. Then, I joined him to the games night (I forgot to bring my games with me, but there were lots of games there). I especially liked the game Dork Tower, with all the cute illustrations, 3D tower, and interesting gameplay. So, I played it twice (with two different groups). I didn't win, but it was fun anyway.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The wonders of Skype

Get Skype Credit To Your AccountFour countries... seven people.... one hour, and $4, and all the family is in one phone call.

My parents are currently in Ürümqi, China, while I am in Koc University, Istanbul, Turkey. So, they sent me a text message with their room number and I immediately called via skype. After talking for some minutes they wondered what my younger brother in Israel is up to. So, I suggested adding him to the call. A few clicks later, and he was on line. During the call I saw that one of my older brothers (also in Israel) is online on skype so I added him to the call as well. Then I also added the oldest brother who currently lives in Saarbrücken, Germany by calling his number again via skypeOut. So now, there were 6 people online (my parents, myself, and all my brothers).

My parents repeated their story about their trip to China and asked everyone to tell how they were doing. During the call, they wondered about my grandmother, so after all the brothers were off the phone I connected her cell phone. So, in total seven people were online in this one conference call made possible by skype. The most amazing thing, that even though the entire conference lasted more than an hour, the total cost was less than $4.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

EUDC07 after break

BambaAfter we failed the break, the next two days were much calmer. On Wednesday there were the quarter and semi finals. You can see the motions and winners on this site. I decided to skip the semifinals and sleep instead (I was very tired after the boat cruise -- it was too long and I was in no mood for it).

Last night there was a "Global Village" event.  In that event every country brought items that represent their culture and local cuisine, while the Turkish brought traditional food and atmosphere, including Hookahs and a belly dancer.

In the Israeli stand we had lots of Bamba (see picture), Bisli, and chocolate with popping candy. We also brought traditional apples in honey and Israeli wine. It was a great success, and we had supplies for the entire night.

The Scottish table had shortbread and fudge, while the Slovenians brought tasty meat. Croatia handed some nonperishable items and information, while Azerbaijan handed out money...

The night was a great success and ended with the Israelis and Irish trying to outsing each other with folk songs. We sang among other songs "אחד מי יודע" and  "יונתן הקטן". Our enthusiasm encouraged other nationals to sing their own songs. With this surge of nationalism we were afraid we'd renew the war between the former Yugoslavian nations, but luckily they were more determined to outsing us, especially when we joined forces with the Irish. When the night was about the end, we sang our national anthem "Hatikvah" and went back to our rooms.

Today was finals day. I decided to skip the ESL final after hearing the first two speeches, but did come to the black tie grand final in Hagia Irene church. The final was a very interesting and fun-to-hear debate. In conclusion, Cambridge B won the tournament. Note this is the same Cambridge B that we met in Round 2.

When the final results were announced, we also got the tab sheets. It turns out that the judge in the last round also gave us a fourth place, which I cannot understand. What I even less understand is that he gave first prop third place and the win to the worst team in the room -- 2nd opposition, even though they  added no substance to the debate at all. In the end, our team was ranked 130 out of 168 with 8 points, and 57 out of 92 in the ESL rank. My personal rank was 227 out of 336 with 485 speaker points (average of 69.3).

After the final I decided to skip the party (I don't really feel like partying) and go directly back to the university. The bus ride (in both directions) felt like it took forever. It was about 1.5 each direction in a city bus with no A/C, and in the way back I had no one to talk to as well. Now that I'm back I feel a little better.

Tomorrow we're having brunch on the Asian side of Istanbul, and during that brunch the EUDC council will vote on the location of the next Europeans. The vote is between Talin, Estonia and Hertzeliya, Israel. The Hertzeliya team have made great effort to ensure as many votes as possible for our bid, and we are hoping for the best. I asked them to invite me to run the tab and they will definitely consider it if they win.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

No break

Technion teams at EUDCToday was the second day of the preliminary rounds of the European Universities Debating Championships 2007. The first motion for the day was "This house will require a prescription for the morning-after pill". We were in second opposition. We tried to analyze why the proposition will overall make safe sex less safe, while not reducing the occurrence of unsafe sex, but I failed to provide the arguments coherently enough and Mark failed to give a coherent summation. We got third place for that debate.

In the last two rounds of the tournament we were not told what our positions were. We knew we had 8 points, and 12 should be enough to break to the next round, so we needed two second places (or one first and one third).

The motion for the next round was "This house will introduce a time limit on prosecutions for genocide". We were in second proposition. The first proposition gave an absurd definition with a time limit of only 5 years, without clearly defining when this time begins and when it ends. I tried to pull them into a coherent definition, but we got none from them. We decided on a time frame that was good for us and tried to prove that it is possible to conduct trials that fast, while showing that even if these trials fail, the situation is still positive. However, it turned out that the judges didn't like the fact that we defined the time frame differently from what might have been implied by first prop, so they gave us fourth place, even below the horrible first prop team.

In the last round we were second prop again on the motion "This house will prosecute parents who take their children to another legal jurisdiction in order to carry out an act which is illegal in their country", yes that long. First prop defined the motion well as applying to forced marriage and FGM. Their main problem was that they failed to cover the important jurisdictional aspects of the motion, while first opposition simply asserted a "territory principle" without proving why it exists and that it applies. We decided to take that clash and analyze the origins of jurisdiction and international law and prove that in this case the crime is committed in the context of the social contract of the original jurisdiction and thus should be tried and prosecuted there. We do not know how much points we got in that round, but we heard a rumor that we have not won this round. I assume we got second place, but I cannot be sure.

In the evening we had a boat tour in the Bosporus strait where the breaking teams were announced. It turned out that 11 points with high speaker points were sufficient for an ESL break, however we got at most 10. I was very disappointed as I thought we deserved at least second place in the last two rounds.

Tomorrow there will be the quarter finals and semi finals, where several Israeli teams will participate. More news will be posted then.

Monday, August 6, 2007

7 points

First four debate resultsToday was the first day of actual debating. There were four rounds, and the results are listed on the right (3 means first place, 0 means last). An average of two points per round ensures breaking to the quarterfinals, probably less.

In the first round we were assigned as first opposition on the motion that "This house will take lifestyle choices into account in the allocation of scarce medical resources." We were up against to EFL (English First Language) teams, one of them quite good, but we still got first place due to our brilliant analysis, and due to fundamental errors on the part of the second government team.

In the second round we were up against two outstanding EFL teams, that routinely break and participate in finals (Cambridge B and Middle Temple) and a very good ESL (English Second Language) team -- Berlin A. We were assigned the worst position in debating -- first proposition and the motion was "This house believes that the state should prohibit all items of clothing that cover the face". This case is clearly opposition-skewed, so we had a really tough job in front of us. Unsurprisingly, we came fourth, however the judge did comment that this was a very good debate and we have done our job very well. We got fourth simply because the other teams were even better.

In the next round we were again against more average teams, and we were assigned (again) to first opposition. The motion was "This house believes that democracy is a necessary condition for economic growth and stability". This was a new type of debate: An analysis debate. We should debate the question of whether or not the motion is true. Our main example was China and have shown that the Government have chosen the wrong criteria and that China does in fact have economic growth and stability. Furthermore, we have shown that economic growth and stability can in principle be attained in non-democratic regimes, even though the population might not be as happy. We won that debate as well, after a long adjudication.

At this point we had 6 points out of a possible 9 and were the best Israeli team in the competition. No other Israeli team had  6 or more points, including the EFL speakers from RRIS.  We knew the next debate was going to be tough. However, we were disappointed to learn that we were assigned (again) to first proposition (which means the tab sucks) and furthermore had to debate again against two EFL teams and one German team. To make matters worse, this time the motion required knowledge we don't really have, and was again opposition-skewed. The motion was "This house  believes that Turkey should invade Northern Iraq to fight Kurdish terrorist organizations". We thought we were about to lose again. Luckily Mark had little information about the subject matter and I managed to build the logic of the case in the sense of what we have to prove in order to make this point. Our actual substantive matter was very weak, but we did make the correct analysis of the issue. It turned out this was enough to bring us above the second government team from Germany and put us in third place.

Thus, after four debates we are now at seven points. If we get six points in the three debates tomorrow we will probably break to the quarterfinals. In any case, expect an update tomorrow night. Now, I'm off to either a "relax party" or the pre-council, where issues regarding this competition are being decided.

Sunday, August 5, 2007


Flag of TurkeyI shall begin with explaining the title of this post. C* is the symbol on all Turkish currency and the Turkish flag. To me it looks like a name of a programing language,  something similar to C# or C++. People in the debating championship didn't find this joke funny.

Today I decided to join some friends and go the nearby town of Sariyer to the north of Istanbul. We ate some breakfast and walked by the beach, and then I returned to the university.

It rained the last two days, and this turns out to be the first rain here in three months. Like the organization committee  said, it seems like the British and the Irish have brought the rain with them.

At 17:00 the tournament formalities started with the debater briefing and then there was a good barbecue dinner, an opening ceremony, and a lame party (which is still ongoing). More updates on the actual tournament tomorrow.

Friday, August 3, 2007

There’s Linux in the Air

Linux on a plane!

Today I flew on a Turkish Airlines Airbus A330 to Istanbul in order to attend the 2007 European Debating Championship. On the way there, there was a very nice on-board entertainment system with personal screens, and the route display system ran on Linux. I know that because a Linux boot screen was visible on all personal screens for several minutes. Regrettably, I did not bring my digital camera over, so all I have for you here is the caricature above.

If you are reading these lines and wondering to yourself "what is this Linux he's talking about?", I'll have to first point you here and then explain that I am a Linux and Free Software enthusiast for many years now and use Linux exclusively for at least 8 years.

Anyway, after we landed at the airport, it took a long time to pass passport control, and then a much longer time to wait for all the Israelis to pass. Especially as one of our group needed to buy a visa while another lost her passport (she found it eventually).

After finally everyone was set, we were taken to the university and got our room. The four Technion males were allocated to one dorm room. I'm now very hungry so we're soon going to grab some food. My plan for the weekend: check projects and get some work done. The tournament will start on Sunday. Expect another update then.

Thursday, August 2, 2007


DoctorToday I have finally passed my PhD exam and the final submission of the thesis. By this, I have completed all requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Now I only have to wait till the degrees commitee confirms my degree.

I woke up early (9 am) today and drove to the Technion. I picked up two remaining documents (lack of debt to the graduate students orginizaton and a certificate that I don't owe books to the library), got some documents signed, and then went on to print three final copies of my thesis and eat some lunch.

At 12 noon the exam began. First, the examiners discussed my work among themselves with me outside the room. Then I gave a short introduction of my research, after which the examiners asked some questions regarding variations and extensions of my work. I got a chance to mention some of the issues we considered that didn't make it into the final thesis and several directions for future research.

After the exam, I brought the three copies of the thesis in for binding, and in the meanwhile cleared my office. When the bound copies were ready I picked them up and returned all my keys to the faculty. Then, I submitted two copies of thesis to the faculty library and faxed all the documents to the graduate school secretary, while sending a copy in internal mail as backup.

Now I need to pack my luggage for my flight to Istanbul, Turkey tomorrow for the European Debating Championship.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Cleaning up

A mopYesterday I have passed the most difficult exam in all my PhD: The cleanliness test for my dorm room. And I did it all by myself.

I have always avoided doing cleaning work due to lack of know-how and experience. I usually opted for easier solutions, such as getting help from my parents or hiring a maid.

At start, this task was no different. My plan was to ask the maid that regularly cleans the dorm apartment on Wednesdays to clean my room as well. However, it turns out that she works every other Wednesday, not including this one. Moreover, it turns out that if I return the dorm room starting from August 1st (Wednesday) I need to pay for another half-month. To make matters worse, I discovered all this only on July 30th and could not find a maid in such a short notice.

My backup plan was to have the maid clean the room next Wednesday and pay the extra half-month fee. However, I decided I can try and avoid this expense. I tried to handle the task on my own. Using information I gathered from watching others do this task, and online how-to sources, I managed to clean the room enough to pass the cleanliness test required to return the room, and yesterday at noon it was all behind me.

This is the first time I have passed a cleaning test all by myself and I feel proud. Some people used to tell me "You don't need a PhD in order to clean your room". Well, now that I (almost) have a PhD I can tell you that I might not need a PhD to clean my room, but I probably need to be able to clean my room to get the PhD...

P.S. You may have noticed the new Google ads I have on my blog. According to the terms of service I am not allowed to encourage you to click on this ads in any way. However, I am allowed to inform you that I get money based on the number of times people click on the ads. If you do not like these ads, I recommend installing adblock on .

Monday, July 30, 2007

Air crash investigation - The videos

After my previous post about air crashes, I did a search on Google video and found several complete episodes for your viewing pleasure:

  • The Tenerife disaster

  • Mid-air collision

  • Aloha Airlines 243 - near crash in a 30-minute flight

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Moving out

Mess in my roomThat's it! I have moved all my stuff out from my dorm room and office. My father helped pack and move all the stuff I have gathered in the past nine years into boxes and bring it all home to my parents' house, where it all stands (as you can see on the right) filling up the entire room.

After four hours of work packing and carrying, all my physical belongings are now in this one room. Moved items include lots of clothes, paper, and one computer and printer.

The next step is the hard one: unpack and sort all of this junk and pack only two suitcases for my new life in the United States.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

My favorite TV show

Air Crash InvestigationWell, after telling you about my favorite TV show in the 80s, I'll talk about my favorite TV show at the present. That show is called Air Crash Investigation or Mayday. It is a documentary about air disasters. Each episode begins with a narrative of a flight that ends in some kind of disaster, and then begins to follow the investigators in their quest to determine the cause of the accident. Using interviews with eyewitnesses and dramatizations based on CVR transcripts the show recreates the drama of the crash.

What I find most interesting is the investigation, and the highly unlikely chain of events that is usually required for a crash to happen. Usually, crashed are caused by a combination of unforeseen weaknesses in design coupled with a series of serious mistakes (or malice) on behalf of the pilots, maintenance crews, or sometimes a third party.

For those of you who have read this far, here are some interesting facts you may have not known about air crashes:

  • The deadliest accident in aviation ever with 583 dead - the Tenerife Disaster - involved two 747s which crashed on the ground. The primary cause of the crash was a mistake on behalf of the KLM captain, who believed he was cleared to take off when in fact there was another aircraft on the runway at the time.

  • A system installed in order to prevent mid-air collisions (TCAS) has been deemed partially responsible for a mid-air collision that left 71 dead (most on board Bashkirian Airlines Flight 2937. It turned out that the pilots were not instructed how to act when the TCAS system and the air traffic controller gave conflicting instructions.

  • The worst single-aircraft crash (JAL Flight 123) killing 520 people was caused due to a critical mistake during repair on the accident aircraft seven years prior to the accident. This was one of only three reported cases where all four redundant hydraulic systems have failed at once.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Things to do before I leave (part 3): Preparing for Stanford

Stanford logoIn the first two parts of this list, I've written the thing I need to do in order to leave Israel. Now comes a list of things to do in order to get acclaimed at Stanford.

  • Stanford

    • Send PhD completion certificate

    • Confirm payment for flight to germany in October

  • Temporary organization

    • Order hotel for first days

    • Buy temporary health insurance

    • Rent a car

  • Research car purchase and maybe order a car

  • Research cellular phone

  • Money

    • Research banks and accounts

    • Figure out if and how to transfer money

  • Pack (clothes and other items), buy stuff if needed.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

80s Nostalgy post #1

My brother has recently posted a nostalgical post about 80s music from our time in the United States. This, together with news about Bush's attempt to shut down PBS remined me of the educational TV shows I enjoyed while in the US in the 80s, and especially Square One, a crazy show with math concepts (including quite advanced math) presented to children in an attractive form.

You can search YouTube for examples, but here are a few great clips, some of them still pop in to my memory even today:

  • Angle dance (... have some geometric fun)

  • Tesslations (ריצופים)

  • Apple rap "I think I see the problem/ I know what you mean...)

  • Graph of Love "Just glance at this graph my friend/ Romance shows an upward trend/ I'm singing the praises of/ a thing called the graph of love."

  • Ghost of a Chance

Thursday, July 19, 2007

We are the finalists!

My finalist medalToday I participated in the Israeli English Open Debating Championship at IDC in Herzliya. In a British Parliamentary Style debate four teams of two debaters represent two opposing opinions. The adjudicators then rank the teams according to how convincing they were and based on some rules.

In today's tournament, me and my partner Mark broke to the finals, which means we were one on the four top ranked teams out of 20. We won two of the three preliminary rounds, and came third in the other round. We were the highest-ranked team of the three Technion teams.

The final was between us, two teams from IDC, and a legendary team of two very experienced debaters. The motion for the final was "This house believes in immediate withdrawal from Iraq". We were first opposition. We did not win. However, all finalists got a medal, and so did I.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Handbag Only

KLM 737-800Last week I flew back home with no luggage, with only a handbag. This was due to the fact that I left my luggage at my brother's house in Saarbrücken. I will pick the luggage up when I return to Dagstuhl (and my brother) in October.

However, then I will be flying from the US and back, and thus will be able to carry the luggage left at my brother's house in addition to whatever luggage I fly with to the US.

So, how do you fly handbag only? I checked in for my flights the day before and printed out an electronic boarding pass. I then used this boarding pass to go directly to the gate and board the flight without even passing the checking counters. Even my Silver status was mentioned on the boarding pass, so I got to use priority boarding as well.

In the Amsterdam - Tel Aviv leg I was assigned a whole row, but shortly before departure the flight attendants had to move two children who sat near the emergency exit to my row.

Upon landing at Ben Gurion airport, I head directly outside and wait for a shared taxi that (after three hours) brought me home.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Things to do before I leave 2: Academic obligations

Academic capPart two of my to-do list include academic, teaching and research obligations. Not all of these stuff HAVE to be done before I leave, but optimally they should:

Stay tuned for part 3, which will include preparations for arrival at Stanford, and part 4 which will list the stuff that need to be done upon arrival.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Things to do before I leave (part 1)

Todo iconOne of the things one can do to reduce the stress of an uncertain situation is to prepare, and the way to prepare is to make lists of things that need to be done. It's much easier to cope when you know what you need to do, and even easier when you have a plan on when to do what.

So, here's my todo list for my trip abroad. If you have any tips or comments about this list, feel free to comment or e-mail me.

Part 1 of the list is stuff related to leaving the country. Striked off items have already been done.

Today I striked off the first item on this list and went to see a doctor, and scheduled blood tests to ascertain my medical situation and to deal with some non-urgent problems.

Stay tuned part 2 of this list -- preperation for living abroad.

Monday, July 9, 2007


JAIRI'm happy to tell you all that my paper was accepted to the Journal of Artificial Intelligence research. This means I will soon have a journal publication from my PhD research in one of the most important journals in AI.

The acceptance was conditional on some revisions being made, or to quote the editor:
After some deliberation, I have concluded that the paper should be ACCEPTED, with the very clear proviso that the comments below MUST be addressed in the revised version of the paper. If any of the reviewers feel that no serious, wholehearted attempt has been made to address the issues, then the paper WILL be rejected, without any further possibility for resubmission/revision.

This gives me yet another thing to work on in the time being. This work is in addition to a paper I was asked to review and two other papers I'm in the process of writing, not to mention two additional journal papers that I should write.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

A night at the opera*

Tonight I went to see my sister in law, Osnat Kaydar perform the lead female role in the cantata Camina Burana by Carl Orff. I am not a big classical music fan (to say the least), but I enjoyed the show very much.

It turns out that the opening and closing movement of the piece called "O Fortuna" is very well-known from movie trailers and many other uses in popular culture. Here it is for your listening enjoyment:

This piece is actually a 1936 adaptation of a medieval collection of poems by the same name. The text is almost entirely in Latin, which means I understood it just as well any other in the audience. The performance was amazing and I couldn't get the "O fortuna" out of my head for some time afterwards.

After the concert, we went to eat at a good steak restaurant in town, and then back to sleep. I have packed my luggage, which I will leave here until I return in October. Tomorrow I'm going to fly home with a handbag only.

* By the way, as I said, this was not an opera but a cantata, but I chose to bend the title a bit.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Mein Bruder in Saarbrücken

My brother -- Ronen Altman KaydarToday I have left Schloß Dagstuhl on my way to visit my brother, Ronen Altman Kaydar, who lives in Saarbrücken.

I arrived by taxi all the way from Dagstuhl. There were two other passengers in the taxi who were en route to Paris by the new TGV train. As we are all game theorists, we split the fare unevenly using the Nash Bargaining solution (yes, it's the same Nash), so I paid €9 while the two others split the remaining €48 bill evenly.

I'll now answer the question I was asked several times during the conference: What is my brother doing in this unknown corner of Germany? Well, the short answer is: translating English tour guides to Hebrew.

However, this has nothing to do with the reason for him being in Germany. He's there because his wife, Osnat Kaydar, is an Opera singer, and studies at an opera school here. Tomorrow I am going to attend one of her concerts, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Excursion to Völklinger Hütte

Today after lunch there was a break from conference sessions. Conference participants were encouraged to participate in an excursion to an old ironworks, where iron ore and coal is converted into pig iron, which is the basis for the manufacture of steel.

In the tour, which took place outdoors in the rain, we saw the various steps in the production of steel. Our guide took her work seriously, while we joked about how hard is it to work in the "industry".

It turns out that parts of the old ironworks were converted into exhibition halls. Today, there is an exhibition titled "Genius I" about the inventions of man from prehistory until today. It begins with an exhibit of prominent inventors and inventions. Some are reasonable such as the Wheel and Galileo Galilei, but some were more German-centric, such as Beer, and several German inventors.

The rest of the exhibition was very similar to any old science museum. I was not very impressed. As our time was limited, we had to leave quite early, so I didn't see much more of the exhibition.

Photos were shot at the ironworks tour, but I cannot publish those online. I will get them later in the conference.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Dagstuhl day 1

Dagstuhl logoFirst day of the Dagstuhl seminar is now over. This is a good opportunity to tell you more about this unique place.

The idea of Dagstuhl seminars is to bring top computer scientists in a particular field from around the world and have them communicate with each other and do research. This communication is promoted by several means: First, all participants stay in the same building with hotel-style accommodations. Further, there is a coffee room, game rooms, a piano room and more informal activities to allow people to communicate. However, the most direct effort to promote communication is the random seating during lunch. The idea is to force people to talk with people outside their own narrow field of research.

Today I also gave my talk titled "An Axiomatic Approach to Personalized Ranking Systems". Several people gave me compliments about my talk and many asked questions both during and after the talk. Also, it turned out that we are not the only ones mining eBay for reputation data, which means we might be able to get the data from someone else instead of gathering it ourselves.

At dinner I was seated with several people I know, and one person from Stanford who I didn't know before. We had a nice conversation, and we have then retired to our rooms. There are no formal plans for the evening, so I plan to go online and maybe look around the premises here at Dagsuthl. All in all, I like it here.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Business Class

KLM Miniature HouseSpecial Update from Amsterdam Schipol Airport... I got upgraded to business class ("Europe Select") on my flight to Amsterdam because the flight was overbooked and Economy was full, so I got to feel KLM shorthaul business class service. The seats are standard Economy seats, but the service is improved. The food is served with real utensils and plates, and every passenger gets a personal video player with a selection of movies (I saw "300"), high quality earphones, and a kit with earplugs and eyeshades (among other stuff).

However, the two best things about "Europe Select" are the fact that the center seat is always free, and the fact that they clear trash and trays from your seat much faster than in Economy, several times during the flight. And the last useful perk is lounge access, which I am using right now to write this blog post.

Now I need to explain why there's a model house in this post. Well, that's another benefit of KLM Business class. You get one of these collectible model houses for free. Not very useful, but serves as an icon for this post...

Saturday, June 30, 2007

On my way again

KLM Fokker 70Yes, the airplane is here for a reason. I'm writing this post from the DAN lounge at Ben Gurion airport (TLV). I'm flying to Frankfurt via Amsterdam, and then wait to join my colleagues in a taxi to Dagstuhl, Germany. There, I plan to attend a Dagstuhl seminar titled "Computational Social Systems and the Internet". My talk on Personalized Ranking Systems will be given tomorrow afternoon.

So, why am I flying via Amsterdam when EL-AL and Lufthansa each operate two direct flights on this flight daily? The reason is of course miles. I am a frequent flyer of KLM and thus prefer to earn KLM frequent flyer miles instead of Lufthansa's.

That's all for now. Next update from Dagstuhl itself, on their free wifi and wired network.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Moving Servers

Server MoveAs many of you know, I host my own server with domain name What many of you do not know, is that this server is hosted in my dorm room at the Technion. As part of the process of leaving the Technion and moving to Stanford I need to move this server as well, and this is not an easy task.

Dedicated server hosting, which is comparable to what I have now costs an arm and a leg. The cheapest hosting I could find is in the order of $30/month. Therefore, I decided to go with a web hosting service. After doing a brief survey, I signed up with For less than $100/year, I get all the bandwidth and disk space I need, plus a free domain name.

I registered the domain and have already moved this blog there (please tell me if there are any problems). I'll soon start copying all the contents of my website to the new server, one service at a time.

I expect to leave the dorms around late July - early August. By then, most of the primary services should already be hosted on the new server. There should be no change in the URLs.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Punalu’u black sand beach

Here is a photo I took at Punalu’u black sand beach, where I met Shira (this photo also courtesy of my camera phone, click to enlarge):

Punalu’u black sand beach


My examiner committee has finally been approved, so I can now finally submit the five copies I have previously made. Now all I need to do is pass the final exam on August 2nd and submit some more forms and the final copies of thesis and I'm done!

PhD comics: Thesis Submission

"Piled Higher and Deeper" by Jorge Cham

Submission. That's an interesting word. The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as:

Submission. n.

    1. The act of submitting to the power of another.

    2. The state of having submitted.

  1. The state of being submissive or compliant; meekness.

  2. The act of submitting something for consideration.

Am I relinquishing power or being meek and compliant by handing in my thesis? Does Nature (or the examiner committee as an agent thereof) have control of my future? Or am I thinking too much?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

BISFAI day 2 - Ironic Lunch

Friday was the second day of BISFAI. I woke up at 6:45 AM(!) and took the 618 "direct" bus to Bar-Ilan University. I arrived at the conference venue at 8:30. This day the talks were about subjects much more relevant to me - Multi-Agent systems and Game Theory.

Some of the talks were very interesting. In others, I could not avoid falling asleep. There was one talk about incentive-compatible routing that I really liked.

As Bar-Ilan is a religious university, in lunch they could not serve meat. Thus, they served a vegetarian lunch. What was interesting and funny was the fact that this vegetarian lunch was served right besides posters in favor of animal experimentation!

Lunch at BISFAIAnimal Research Poster

After the conference I found that only one person was driving back to Haifa, so I took a ride with him and then was picked up by my brother (not the one from yesterday) to the Technion and then home.

Monday, June 25, 2007

BISFAI day 1 - Jet lagged

Brain Research CenterThe Bar-Ilan Symposium on the Foundations of Artificial Intelligence was last Wednesday - Friday at Bar Ilan University. I arrived at Bar Ilan right after my visa interview. As I noticed I arrived on time only for the lunch break, I decided to go and grab some lunch and meet with an online friend of mine who studies Biology at BIU.

After this very short but fun meeting, I made way to the main conference venue - the new Brain Research Center at BIU. The afternoon sessions were about Planning and Modeling, which are not my field of research. Moreover, I had trouble staying awake due to the early wake-up hours. So, I spent most of the time outside socializing with other people in the field. Many of them I have never met in Israel before, even though they were all Israelis.

I had a paper in the conference, which was presented by co-author -- Avivit. I missed the presentation, but I heard from others that it went well.

After the conference day ended, I took a bus to Azrieli Center in order to meet with my brother and his wife and play video games. I arrived one hour early and looked for something to do, but all I could find were stores who sell clothes or food. So, I sat down on a bench and continued correcting Avivit's paper.

When they finally arrived, we played many video games at the center and finally returned to their home in Hertzeliya to go to sleep for the second day of the conference.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Visa, Mastercard, American Express

Visa, Mastercard, American ExpressContrary to what you may think, this post is not about credit cards. It's about the process of obtaining a United States J-1 (Exchange Visitor) visa.

So, my story begins at 8:00 in the morning on Thursday when I wake up. I take the train to Tel Aviv and a bus to the US Embassy, the only US Consulate in Israel. In the embassy I wait in line (line - not queue - this is the American embassy...) for about half an hour and submit all my forms for inspection including my all so precious DS-2019 and SEVIS fee confirmation. They quickly check the forms, and I'm on my way to the next step - fingerprinting.

In America, foreigners don't have privacy rights, and this includes the requirement to surrender your fingerprints. They had to scan me again even though they already had my fingerprints in the system from my previous visa request. The next step is the visa interview.

According to what it says on the embassy website, you need to bring lots of documents to the interview: Salary slips, student permits, and proof that you have ties to Israel. Well, I did bring all that, but the only thing the consul looked at was my invitation letter from Stanford, and specifically on the paragraph saying how much they're going to pay. After this very short interview my visa was confirmed, but I had to leave my passport and all forms behind.

The last step of the process was to pay to have my passport and DS-2019 mailed to be by courier. I payed the 33.50 NIS (US$8) fee by MasterCard, and off I went. The whole process took less than an hour. This is what I call American Express...