Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Toronto Love

As I got more interested in art and design, and as I continue to spend more time in a growing list of cities around the world, I'm realizing two important things: (1) urban planning and urban design are crucial to city-dwellers' quality of life, and (2) Toronto is awesome.

I like to browse around magazine stands when in book stores, and two articles really jumped out at me this week. Foreign Policy has a great article on Global Cities, and it gives Toronto the 10th spot in the list of globalized cities. While the T dot does well in all categories, it does best in cultural experience (fourth overall), and human capital (tenth). A city with great, experienced, and intelligent people who like culture. Who can argue with that?

And to make matters even more exiting, Toronto Life has an article about Globalive, a Toronto-based company entering the Canadian wireless (cell phone) industry. Finally, someone new!

So as I prepare to celebrate the coming of 2009 in downtown Toronto, in a city that I can barely call home anymore, I am filled with pride. This is a nice place, you should all come here some time!

Note: click on photo for credits.

EDIT: I should note that due to traveling so much in December, I haven't updated this blog much. This post is just a quick note that I'm back on the blogging scene!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Speakers, Woah!

One of the best things about Oxford is the large amount of wonderful and famous speakers that visit. Last week I listened to speeches by Phil Smith (the VP and CEO of Cisco Systems UK) and Shimon Perez. Then on Sunday and Monday, Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford took place, with speakers like Elon Musk and Philip Rosedale. The conference itself had a large number of venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and researchers.

I'm really enjoying all these events, and wish I had photos to go with them. Maybe next time!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Oxford's Colleges

I've been visiting quite a few colleges lately, so for those who can't be here, I wanted to share a few photos. A lot of the older colleges are quite beautiful, and definitely worth a trip if you're ever in the UK.

First up is Lincoln, then St. John's. Unfortunately I just have photos from by the porters' lodges for these.

Aaron and I visited Magdalen College today while looking for parks to walk in (the college has a great deer park), so the rest of the photos are from there. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Dorset Naga

Rumour has it that the Dorset Naga may be one of the hottest chilis ever grown. As someone who enjoys his food spicy, I decided to drop by The Mission, a local burrito place here in Oxford, as they're currently serving their food with the option of having salsa made from this wonderfully spicy pepper.

So how spicy is it? I still don't remember the name of that hot sauce with the rooster on the front. You know the one -- it has a green cap and is in virtually every Chinese restaurant in Toronto and New York. I go through a bottle in a month or two... I put it on everything.

And yet, eating that burrito yesterday made me want to cry. I almost lost the battle, and having won once against the salsa, I'll gladly say I'll likely never fight it again. I'll still to the rooster variety of chilis. :)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Random Photos from London

Just a few photos from the phone...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Copyright Call to Arms

I mentioned a while back about political things I'm getting involved in, but didn't want to share. So the "project" isn't as big as you might have thought, but Jesse Helmer and I wrote a piece for the Globe and Mail's Technology website. The article, A Copyright Call to Arms, provides an overview of what to expect with regards to intellectual property and copyright now that the Canadian election is over with.

There are lots of comments on the topic, so be sure to check those out as well!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

American Elections

One of the things I really like about Oxford is the massive amount of interest in politics... It's American Election night and there's parties, events, and public screenings of CNN in quite a few colleges. The photo above is just one example. Really awesome atmosphere!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

London Calling

This past Friday I finally had a chance to visit London! Not only that, but Kate (a fellow scholar from the US) joined me and we made a nice day of it. I was thinking of what to write here, but the event boils down to good conversation, eating dumplings and drinking bubble tea in Chinatown, and making our way to the a Halloween party thrown by Google.

What more can I say? Here are some photos, and text thrown in every once in a while.

So the dumpling place is called Jen Cafe and I recommend to everyone. Totally felt like discovering a new part of the city, and made me happy. That's Kate in the front, who recommended this place! (Bonus points for anyone who recommends good places for food.)

... and last but not least, the Google Party. Okay, I don't have much photos here, just the after-effects, courtesy of Glenn and Emma. The party was over at 12 am, but we wondered the city until about 2 am, looking for things to do. With bus ride and all, Oxford greeted us at 4:30 am. Long night!

I'm hoping to make my way into London a few more times in the coming weeks. Dorkbot is holding events, and there's a few conferences that I would love to attend. I'll keep everyone posted. Next time I'll also write something more substantive.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Combibos Coffee

I finally found a coffee shop I can enjoy going to on weekends and not pay $6 for a drink! Not only that, but Combibos Coffee is also family run. I'll definitely be back... If only these places stayed open past 7 pm...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What's Up With Wojo This Coming Year?

I think the photo above is a great illustration of where I'm finding myself. I'm happy, but a bit worried... I'm at my desk, looking up -- am I looking for something? Maybe... Am I anxiously observing the massive amount of mathematical work looming over me? Definitely... I have a few expectations of myself and of the year to come, and I hope to document them here.

So what's up with me?

Obviously, School

Four major courses, case studies, exams, and weekly assignments. Yes, this is my life, and what a workload! I vacillate between being completely happy with the challenges and problems being presented, while also worrying that things will only get harder from here. Nonetheless, this is the main thing I'll be doing. Seriously, what did you expect?


I'm hoping to get more involved in Canadian politics. I think I've done a lot of the international political stuff through Five Minutes to Midnight (FMM) and the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, and there's a few ideas brewing now with regards to Canadian public policy and politics. Okay, there's actually something amazingly cool in the works, but I'm keeping it confidential until it's released. Just wait a few weeks!

I'm going to place FMM in this category as well, though it has a much broader mandate than Canadian public policy. There's a few projects we're working on, and while it's hard to balance my broader life with FMM, I'm happy to continue doing so.

Research and Business

The research projects I've been working on are still moving forward, though much more slowly. So's the business idea and prototype I've been building. In fact, I use the prototype a few times a week to quickly and easily catch up with the blogosphere that I so miss now that I'm not at IBM. There, you now have a hint at what I'm doing!

Breaking Down My Comfort Zone

I try to do this regularly, but more so this year than ever before... This will include more social events and formals, more adventures, travel, running, hiking, etc. It's a vague category, but a very important one. And it totally relates with the ones above.

So what do I think of this coming year? Well, I wrote the above in a Starbucks and then went for dinner, planning to post this when I returned home. At dinner I got a fortune cookie, with a wonderful message. The photo is below (click for a larger version):

... I think that says it all.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


This past Saturday, I officially joined the University of Oxford. Unfortunately, I didn't take many photos, but am excited to get back the "official" photo that was taken.

Ironically, I'm writing about matriculation instead of working on the assignments I have due in the morning... So I'm off!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Oxford Graffiti

The back exit of the Mathematical Institute at Oxford provides one with a perfect view of some interesting graffiti. Simple, yet in some way, quite deep. Makes me smile every time.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

New Phone

After 2.5 weeks away from my old phone, I finally have a new one! And yes, as promised, it's a bit of a camera phone. 3.2 megapixels... Though I really wanted a Blackberry, I couldn't justify spending over $600 on the Curve (my old one got wet!) or $800 on the Bold.

At least I can take photos! Finally, moblogging again! Though this time through Bluetooth.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Amazon Web Services for Research

It's been a while, but there's a new post at

I'm hoping to get a cell phone with a camera soon, and when I do, I'll be posting photos on here regularly. Can't wait!

Friday, October 10, 2008

What's Up With Wojo? (Freshers' Week Edition)

I was talking with Emma, a fellow scholar from Canada tonight, and realized that I've been away from home for almost two weeks now. Long time to be away, and it's still the beginning... The idea of being in a new place and making new goals has been with me for a while, but I haven't thought much about goals, aspirations, or similar things, yet. Sure, I thought about how I should make some new goals, but that's as far as it's gone.

"Why is that?" you ask? Well, there's a number of reasons, and all of them have to do with the events of the last few weeks. This is what I've been up to.


So far, I'm being inducted into everything from the University of Oxford to various clubs. There's lots of this, and a lot of it is ceremonial. I'm looking forward to getting to work, soon, rather than attending these events. They're nice, but work is also nice.


Wine and cheese events, pubs, guest speakers, and afternoon tea. Welcome to Oxford, this is what daily life is like.


I'm still working on a number of papers, along with my business idea... I'm using the business' prototype to do my own blog reading, and am enjoying it quite a bit. We'll see where it goes!


... there's a lack of time for everything. I hear that life gets much busier once courses start, and this scares me a bit. I'm sure I'll be fine -- at the least, I won't be giving up the project I'm running now!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

At Oxford

I arrived at Oxford last Monday, and haven't been posting much because I wanted to take some photos and let those speak for themselves first. Simply put, Oxford is a beautiful place. It's old but warm, and the people working at the university are wonderful.

But I don't want to write too much in this post. So without further ado, here's where I live...

That's my apartment on the top floor. It's got two rooms -- a study and a bedroom -- so I'm quite happy with the setup.

When I exit my staircase, here's the path I take.

Trinity College itself is beautiful, though the grass is a bit dead this time of year. Here's the front yard.

And for good measure, here's Rhodes House (across the street from Trinity College).

The main entrance to Trinity College is actually on the side of the College... The entrance is almost in the centre of town, and surrounded by many gorgeous and terribly old buildings, like the Sheldonian Theatre, below.

And here's some more random shots of the street I'm on...

So there you have it! A very different place from New York or Toronto, but I think I could get used to it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My Parents' Garden

Our home in Thornhill (Ontario) is not very big, but for three people, it's sufficient. I've got less than three days here, so I thought I'd share with everyone what I'll be missing. My parents have a great garden, and I definitely don't spend enough time there as it is...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Toronto in Writing

Back in May 2006, I started working at a social science lab on College & Spadina. Located on the south-west corner of the University of Toronto campus and north-east corner of Chinatown, the lab not only let me study the city, but experience it first-hand. It was great.

Just two months later, I was at a conference in Brazil and ran into a fellow Torontonian named Cory Doctorow. "Cool guy," I thought, and promptly bought his book, "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town", which actually takes place very close to the lab I worked at. Soon I could connect the restaurants and coffee shops he talks about with my own lunchtime wanderings. A great feeling, to say the least.

In my mission to learn more about the city and experience it in new ways, I bought Toronto Noir, a short story anthology with all stories taking place in various parts of Toronto... And on a side note, the publisher's description of Toronto is absolutely hilarious:
Toronto is located on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario and has a population of 2,503,281 (or about 3,113,149 U.S.). Comprised of wetlands, concrete parts, and futon stores, the city is home to some of Canada's most notorious criminals. Broken Social Scene and Anne Murray live here.
Anyway, there's something wonderful when you read about the place you live in a fictional book. People from bigger cities (hear that, citizens of New York, London, and Tokyo) might take this from granted, but Toronto is still small enough to be overlooked by most authors.

And if you're in Toronto and have yet to read a book that takes place in the city, read Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. It's free and CC-licensed, for crying out loud!

Note: click photo for credits.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Manpuku and Ramen

One of the things I miss dearly about Japan and New York are the ramen bars. While these are native to Japan and have been imported to New York City, it's definitely hard to tell them apart. You get inside the restaurant. It's extremely packed, with a few cooks standing at the bar and serving people who are sitting down.

And of course, all you really want to get is a big bowl of ramen and maybe dumplings on the side. What's so great about this? Ah, the atmosphere! You're close to the cooks and can easily chat them up (if they speak English!)... You're close with your friends, sitting together and sharing the dumplings. The smell of ingredients cooking is strong, and it feels like you've stepped into another world.

I've been on the lookout for a seedy, crowded, aromatic ramen joint in Toronto, but have yet to find one... I guess I'll have to save this mission for another trip.

On the bright side, though, the search made me run into Manpuku on 105 McCaul Street, right by the Art Gallery of Ontario. Tucked away in a food court, this Japanese restaurant provides the cheapest and best-tasting Japanese fast food I've had in Canada. So I guess I can't complain!

Note: click photos for credits.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Cyberpunk Culture

As I continue to open my mind to new forms of art, music, and writing, I've decided to delve into the "cyberpunk". If you've watched The Matrix, you probably have a bit of an idea about what I'm talking about. Cyberpunk is a technology-focused subculture interested in a future, and believing (accepting?) that the future is going to be a dystopian mix of technocracy, anarchy, and scientific advancement.

By using "dystopian" I might be too harsh, but a "dark" future is definitely expected. Bladerunner is a great example of this, where Los Angeles is a grim and polluted place.

There are numerous cyberpunk books, with Neuromancer seen as the novel that started this sci-fi genre. A world where hackers are glorified and artificial intelligence exists, with the main character starting off in a dark and dangerous city in Japan. The book reminds me of Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, also written in the mid-1980s. In this case, the "hacker" is a government agent whose subconscious is used as a key in an encryption algorithm for data. Cyberpunk anime also exists, and includes Akira, The Animatrix, and Cowboy Bebop.

As with "regular" punk, much of the subculture focuses on music as well... The Opera House (in Toronto) recently hosted a rave, Tokyo Cybermonster (some photos), that featured costumes, bands, and dancing. Some of the music played is available on MySpace.

Of course, defining anything as "cyberpunk" is difficult... But those interested can visit The Cyberpunk Project, a Russian site devoted to cataloging cyberpunk culture, and what it means.

What is most fascinating about cyberpunk is its focus on the future of society. Like the broader punk movement, which has roots in politics and social discontent, cyberpunk tries to make a statement about the future of social norms, ethics, politics, and even economics. What I find striking is that while punk music often rebels against the status quo and present political conditions, cyberpunk works sometimes glorify the seemingly unavoidable technological dystopia. Think about Bladerunner -- while the plot and scenery are both dark, the viewer is still drawn to a future of humanoid robots, flying cars, space colonies, and advertisements.

Finally, this whole "cyberpunk dystopia" is not as far-off and incredible as one may initially think. While true artificial intelligence may never be achieved, the Internet connects the entire world, cyberwars and infowars take place, and our actions are being logged continuously. Maybe the cyberpunks are just one step ahead?

Note: click photos for credits.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Big Hard Sun

One of the first movies that I saw in New York City was "Into the Wild". The movie was pretty, and I loved the soundtrack. I went with a friend I met online because I had yet to make any friends outside of work at any events, galleries, or coffee shops I ended up frequenting.

For the movie's soundtrack, Eddie Vedder remade "A Big Hard Sun" (original, remake). I've developed an association between this song and my first few months in New York -- a period of insecurity, confusion, exploration, and yes, research.

I bring this up today because as I am now into my last few weeks in Toronto, I keep wondering about who to see, what to do next, and what I'll miss most. Vanessa recently arrived in Afghanistan, Ray I haven't seen in months now, I don't attend social network meetings at IBM, and there's a few people I met back in October or November who I have never seen again. The perfect example is having American Thanksgiving with four Asian girls studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in downtown Manhattan.

"I study merchandising, what about you?"

"Oh, I'm a mathematician. I do social network analysis, looking at marketing trends."

"... I see..."

Needless to say, I never saw those four again.

And yet with all the people I miss, I have reconnected with old friends like Marcin, Alie, and Rawi... I'm with my parents every day, and I visit my sister's grave. I even started a new software project, programming it at the Starbucks on Yonge and Bloor -- a coffee shop that has now seen me develop three major software projects over the last three years.

I've been very reflective these last few weeks. One of my high school buddies recently asked me, "What makes someone successful?"

I'm thinking about what this question even means. One thing I've learned over the years is that "success", however you define it, often entails a lot of sacrifice. When I was in high school, I would have defined "success" as "traveling the world for work"... Now that I think about my current situation, where I started by living in Toronto, then Nairobi, then New York, and now moving to Oxford, I can see that even though I've managed to reach my goal of residing in a lot of neat places, I've had to say goodbye to a great many friends, join -- and leave -- social circles, and then spend my Sundays reflecting on my life while listening to MGMT.

Do I have any regrets? Definitely not, but I sure would like to bring everyone with me when I move. We can turn that Yonge-Bloor Starbucks into a big ship and live on it while travelling the world. At least the bathrooms will be nice.

Friday, August 29, 2008

dorkbot Toronto

Today I finally attended another dorkbot event, a few months after my first. Before I go into details of the event, I want to say it was a complete pleasure doing this in Toronto. In NYC, you get used to events like these, while I've been having trouble finding them in Toronto. My only criticism is that even after promoting the event to a dozen people, no one wanted to go.

But this isn't for everyone, I guess...

Anyway, dorkbot-Toronto is much more artistic (in terms of "pure art") than what I've seen in the past, but I can't complain. I showed up to be challenged and immersed, and so I was. Three artists presented, including Kelly Jazvac and Atom Deguire. Kelly focused on her work with vinyl, while Atom showed photos from his work around Europe, where he'd use tape and physical objects to modify benches, walls, and galleries. Visit his site, as I don't want to misrepresent his views here... All I can say is that it reminds me of a more abstract and arguably less political Banksy.

The first presenter, and one which I want to focus on the most, is Kristen Peterson, who also runs Drawing Research. I can talk most about her work because in some ways it's the most mathematical. Illusions aren't new, but I really like her approach... I left the meeting wondering if there's some sort of mathematical order behind what she does. The illusions depend a number of drawings / illustrations. At the right angle, they merge together and convince you that they're actual objects, and this is a wonderful way to challenge your senses. Even Kristen brought up the intersection of planes in her presentation -- the illusions really freak you out because two dimensional objects obtain a three dimensional quality to them.

... But then I couldn't help and think about how you can potentially "encrypt" information this way. For example, go to and click on Artwork and then on YYZ. You'll automatically see the illusion, where the bars seem to go into and beyond the wall. Very impressive, very Escher-esque, very cool!

Now here's what I'm all excited about. Say that instead of evenly-spaced bars, Kristen actually created a bar-code scheme that travels into the distance. Could a barcode reading pick up this information? It technically wouldn't work anywhere except when looking at the illusion correctly... Maybe this is impossible for traditional barcode scanners, but newer ones (such as the type you can install in an iPhone) should be able to do something similar.

All of a sudden, you have an illusion that actually gives you information... Say a website URL, or a secret message.

Anyway, my point is: this was a lot of fun. Everyone in Toronto should go to a dorkbot meeting.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


One of the things I've tried to do these last few months is get into anime. It's cool, and I like it, but I generally don't watch a lot of movies. Back in New York I got into a habit of putting movies on while I worked on other stuff. In some ways, it's a great strategy to pick out good movies, as you only stop working and watch the movie if it's grabbing your attention.

... The down side is you miss a lot of nuances and details.

Anyway, I digress. This week I watched Cowboy Bebop and Princess Mononoke. I also tried to watch Metropolis for the second time in my life... That is to say, both times I failed miserably: I rent the movie and end up falling asleep. The movie is cool and the Art Deco feel reminds me of both Bioshock and Atlas Shrugged. The problem is I rent it at inopportune times, and end up passing out from being too tired.

... And now it's onto manga. There's a copy of Zombie Loan waiting for me two meters away. Yes, I read manga for teens -- but how else am I to practice Japanese?

Tikhonov Regularization (in Graph Theory)

... post at Implementing algorithms is fun, usually... Not always, though. :) This time it was great, and what's even better, the work is completely useful for my research!

Monday, August 25, 2008


Back when I was 14 years old, I decided I wanted to go skydiving, but was too young. At 16, I was technically old enough but for some reason I didn't go. 18... 20... The years went by. Finally, the day arrived today, and what a sweet ride!

First, some context is useful. Alie (who took all the pretty photos below) and Marcin (who's in some of those photos) have been dating for... Uhh... A number of years (Six? Seven?). Alie decided to surprise Marcin with a gift of skydiving. Some might say that asking your significant other to jump out of a plane at 13,500 feet on your anniversary isn't sending the right message, but hey, we like to think it's Love, with a capital "L". And plus, it's way cooler than a gift certificate.

Skydiving is an interesting experience... Unfortunately, it's extremely difficult to describe the emotions. While some people are afraid, Marcin and I (or other hardy Polish people like us :) ) felt a bit indifferent. Or maybe we were so scared we were numb... Nah, we think we were just extremely brave. We wouldn't back down from the jump, so thinking of fear wasn't really an option.

The day sarted off a bit cloudy and we waited a while before it was clear enough to jump. The little plane we were in was packed with a dozen people, and was constantly climbing at about 45 degrees -- well, I didn't bring my protractor on this flight, but it was steeper than any other climb I've ever done. At 6,000 feet a few guys jumped out, making faces as they left. Clearly this wasn't their first jump. A few hundred more feet and we were in the cloud cover, unable to see a thing.

... And then we broke the ceiling. Err, the cloud ceiling, that is. Now we were maybe 9,000 feet above Ontario, staring at clouds in all directions. This is a typical view out of a jumbo jet, with rolling clouds any direction you look. Only difference this time was that we knew we'd be falling through them. I wish I had pictures, as this was one of the most beautiful feelings I've had (in a plane, and in general!), knowing you won't only be seeing a beautiful, artistic, natural formation -- but you'll be falling through it and screaming your butt off at over 150 km per hour, as well.

Yes, our first jump was such that we actually fell through the clouds. Though, you're falling so fast the clouds just zoom past as you try to breathe and look around you. And how does freefall actually feel? Somehow, it feels like nothing at all. The initial "hop" off the plane is the slowest and fastest thing I've ever experienced -- you think very little, and it's over in about a second... This is when your speed is slowest (think back to high school physics and it makes perfect sense), and you're just floating there, weightless and confused at the fact that you're completely alone (or with an instructor named Kevin) 4 kilometers up in the sky.

Before you know it, you're hurtling towards the ground and Kevin is tapping you. Ah, you can now spread your arms and breathe. The realization that you're falling has hit you, but you're still senselessly dumbfounded at the horror and glory of freefall. You can move your arms around to twist and turn in the air, taking in the beauty of the ground below you and clouds coming right at you.

Another tap on the back, and you know the parachute is about to open. Slam, rip, zoop, and now your speed has been reduced significantly. You expect your body to keep falling, and in fact, your mind does keep going -- this part almost feels like an out-of-body experience for me, where my brain keeps falling and look back up at the rest of my body. Those harnesses work, dude!

And so you float to the ground in your parachute. While this doesn't quite compare to the surprising and confusing experience of freefall, looking around at the ground, at the clouds, at the horizon, and anything else you can discern is still a surreal experience.

Plop! and you're on the ground, butt-first, muddied pants and all. It's over, less than ten minutes later... And you want to get right back in the plane and do it all over again.