Monday, May 26, 2008

Hiking at Bear Mountain

This Saturday, I finally got a chance to explore the more natural side of New York State. Specifically, Vanessa and I went hiking at Bear Mountain State Park. I remember driving down through Peekskill with my parents when we first came to Westchester, and the rolling hills were quite a sight. It was nice to actually go out and explore them!

Of course, we got lost along the hike... Eventually we ran into someone, who pointed us to the nearest road. We walked for about 30 minutes and decided to hitch hike, but only one car came our way: a two-seater sports car, with the guy not sure where the park was. So we kept walking along the road, and another thirty minutes later we came into the rear of a parking lot, with my car in plain sight. Lucky us!

Anyway, great hike, great time. Here are some photos:

And the best part is that even though we're about 1.5 hours north of New York City, looking closely still lets you see the cityscape.

And on a separate note, two more sushi places to add to the list... First, Hane Sushi at 581 3rd Ave. (interesting fusion place!) and Sushi Mambo at 255 Bleecker Street (spicy apple rolls!).

Fallout Shelter

... in Greenwich Village.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Indiana Jones...

Warning: if you haven't seen it and want to avoid spoilers, don't read this post.

I've been meaning to write a quick post about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull for a few days now, as I had a chance to see a pre-release screening on Tuesday night.

... And wow, was I ever disappointed! The movie starts off in 1957 and even features a nuclear explosion. This got me all excited, as I saw my love for the Fallout franchise blend with Indiana Jones into an amazing movie that had everything I could ever want. But then the aliens appeared... First a brief mention of extraterrestrials, which made me uncomfortable but I forgave the movie. "Must be a slight slip-up, nothing serious," I thought.

Then we saw the alien skulls... And then we saw the aliens come to life... And finally, we saw the spaceship leave Earth! The cool 1950's atmosphere was long-gone by then, as was any real reference to the old Indiana Jones trilogy.

If that wasn't bad enough, there's tons of plot holes, too, it seems. Sitting at home and reflecting (weeping) about the state of the movie, I thought back to the beginning, where the FBI decided to investigate Indiana Jones for colluding with Russians -- they even harass him in an interview room. And then we never hear about them again.

The Globe and Mail has a good negative review on the movie.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Work as Play

I was going through my blog reader today and came across a post from 0x000000. While I normally don't cite specific posts, this was linking to a vide of Alan Watts. While it's a three-part series, the first part is the most relevant. Here it is.

So why I posting this? Well, I've recently had many discussions with people about why I "work" so much. 15-hour days don't scare me, and I enjoy stressing myself out or drowing in "tasks" for "work".

Why are those words in quotations? Well, Alan Watts discusses the idea that we should treat work as play, and that this will lead to a more fulfilling life. I fully agree. To me, "work" encompasses: (1) Five Minutes to Midnight, (2) mathematical sociology / social networks / data mining, (3) my involvement in governance (i.e. Canadian Commission for UNESCO). The last example, the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, has already been discussed and is a perfect example of the interdependence of work and play in my life.

Essentially, my research helps me see the world in a new way. By studying social patterns and (hopefully!) making discoveries, I understand humanity in a new way. It is both a job, and a humanistic and spiritual journey. My political and social involvement is similar -- by participating in such activities, I also explore culture, youth, and life.

Should everyone live this way? Of course not -- do what you enjoy and do it in a way that supports you and your life. The example that Watts gives of the bus driver is perfect in this case... He says that a bus driver can see his job as stressful (due to harassment and annoying passengers) along with boring (traffic jams), or that bus driver can approach his driving as a form of dance.

Is this optimistic? Maybe... I can only speak for myself, and I've never driven a bus. However, I also do a lot of math and programming (for about 10 hours a day), and what keeps me going is not math for math's sake, but rather the underlying social and humanistic aspects to my work. That's my form of bus driving, and my form of dance.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Canada and UNESCO

This last week I had the fortune of going to Saskatoon, where I attended the Canadian Commission for UNESCO's annual general meeting (AGM). As a member of their Youth Advisory Group, I've been to quite a few meetings now, and must say I enjoy participating quite a bit. While the amount of work can grow quite large at times, the focus on Canadian culture has really opened up by eyes to the diversity and creativity of Canada. It's only appropriate that after writing a rant about Toronto being a great city, I write about Canada being a great country.

I remember the first AGM I attended two years ago in Montreal, where I first heard Inuit throat singers -- something completely different from any previous musical experiences, and really beautiful. This year, we visited a Biosphere Reserve, with two photos below.

Talking to participants made me realize there are still a number of things I have yet to experience, either in Canada or in general:
  • The Aurora Borealis
  • Hearing the ice cracking on a lake
  • The Arctic
  • British Columbia's forests
  • The Bay of Fundy (or anywhere in the Maritimes, for that matter)
  • First Nations reserve / healing ceremony / fasting / anything
  • Solitude in the wilderness

Okay, that last one is pretty intense, but maybe one day...

On my flight back, the sky wasn't cloudy and I got to see some beautiful views of Canada... And some of that cracking ice I want to hear.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

No Matter...

... how hard I try, it seems that on travel days I always (1) get 4 or less hours of sleep, and (2) can't be productive on the road. Anyone have any tips?

Too Many Conferences

I remember back in high school, my co-op teacher told me to "network!" But boy, am I networked out... Podcamp NYC 2.0, UN Meets Web 2.0, IBM's Web 2.0 Conference, Dorkbot, and more... It's been a nice ride, but at one point last week I sat down and said to myself, "I spend more time talking to people about what they're doing and what I'm doing, than I actually spend time doing."

Will I stop? As I start packing for the Canadian Commission for UNESCO annual general meeting (in Saskatoon!), begin looking forward to an NYU conference on social media and prepare a paper for the Harvard Networks in Political Science conference, I'd be a liar if I said "yes".

So, "no."

But I'm trying to slow this down a bit, or at least become more productive in the time between conferences, and on the way to those conferences. Do I have any secrets to share? No, but giving up the things you are addicted to (like instant messengers) is hard and potentially necessary.

Initially I wanted to write about those conferences, but I have nothing to really say. The great side effect about going into the city so much is I try more sushi, though it's not the only time I enjoy raw fish. So to add to the list: (1) Yorktown Heights lab cafeteria sushi, (2) Daruma Japanese Cuisine in Brooklyn, (3) Sharaku at Astor Place, and (4) Kicho (near Mount Kisco!).

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Toronto vs. New York City

I grew up in Toronto, and while I don't live in New York City, I've gone out of my way to really experience the city while living in Westchester. Thanks to Pidgin, I've kept in touch with quite a few friends back home, and also had a bunch visit me... Yes, a lot of the discussions focused on New York City and what a cool place it is, and some led to comparisons between Toronto and New York.

It's impossible to objectively rank cities, but I've noticed quite a few people saying "NYC is better than Toronto" as if that was a commonly held belief. This bugs me. Why is Toronto so bad? Or... Why is New York City so much better?

Before I go into a rant on why Toronto isn't bad, I want to say that I'm not saying one city is better than the other. All I'm saying is that Toronto has more to offer than some people realize... Do I have a preference? To be honest, not really. I can see myself settling down in New York City, but also like Toronto and would be happy there. Regardless, I'll be in England for two years, and things might change quite a bit.

So, for those faint-of-heart when it comes to Toronto... Do you read blogTO or Torontoist? Have you been to the Linux Cafe, or hung out at Kensington Market? Have you had a classy evening at the Panorama (at the Manulife Centre), or taken a date to the distillery district? Have you had a slice of Massimo's famous pizza, or gone to the wrong Green Mango on Yonge & Bloor when meeting a friend?

"Ah," Toronto detractors may say, "These are all locations. What about people?"

What baffles me about New York City is the amount of people that eat alone at restaurants (I've written about this before), and the large proportion of single women in the city... But forget this, let's not bash NYC but rather let's continue looking at the positives of Toronto. So, fellow detractors, what's your poison? (Does that date me?) People come in different groups and forms. Investment bankers and founders of start-ups? Head down to the regular investors' meetings on King Street, or start reading the Canadian startup blogs that discuss the Mesh Conference, MARS, StartupCamp, and so on... Do you prefer parties? SummerCamp, NewLoveMindspace... Wear your underwear on the train, have a pillow fight, and freeze yourself (okay, okay, so much of this is based on New York events, but at least we have them too!). Hang out with the punks at the Kathedral, if you're feeling on the wild side, or pop in at the Centre for Social Innovation and learn a thing or two about non-profits... And that's in Chinatown, so while you're at it, buy some dumplings or head on over to the smallish (now) Polish area nearby, where you can buy pierogi instead.

I will admit that what Toronto lacks is size -- whereas New York City will have about a dozen technology events every week and a few dozen parties, Toronto has a lot less. But who goes to all those events anyway? There's enough to have fun, and if you talk to anyone outside of the city, you'll probably hear that Torontonians are just as self-centered as New Yorkers. :)

I believe that growing up in only one city is both a blessing and a curse... A blessing because you get to know parts of the city intimately, but a curse because it's easy to fall into complacency... "I've been here all my life, I know this place better than anyone," you may think. And this is true. But if you don't keep up with mailing lists, grassroots groups, and local artists, you're bound to miss a lot more than you realize.

This is why I'm glad I've spent so much time away from Toronto, and am grateful that I'll be back for at least two solid months... Ironically, I've learned more about the inner cultural workings of Toronto while in NYC than I realized, by reading blogs, following Toronto-based startups, and missing my friends.

As T.S. Eliot said, "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."

Of course, this isn't the first time I've realized how great the city is... If you haven't read Cory Doctorow's Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, then read it right now. Based mainly in Toronto, you actually read about the city, and sometimes, having someone else describe the place you live in with affectionate and creative terms is all you need to fall in love with it (or fall in love with it again).

Note: click on images for credits.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Random Photo

The photo was taken by Vanessa, who demands a photo credit. I won't get into any intellectual property rants tonight. :)