You know when you’re looking up a place on Google Maps?

And you accidentally swipe the trackpad or the mouse slips or something, and then #@&*, you’re suddenly looking at a whole continent? And whereas the zoomed-in map showed clear next steps, the bigger picture makes those 2 blocks seem rather insignificant. And then you start to wonder why you’ve never been to Mississippi or Cuba or Baja California?

Sometimes I feel that my life zoomTM is similarly on the fritz.

All of a sudden I’m part of a an intricate system, interconnected flows, production, disposal, communication.

I never quite get to zoom out as far as Google Maps, but even looking at the most uninhabited areas of the American west out of an airplane window I notice thin lines, systems of dirt roads, or little shaved patches on the snowy mountains (which seem somehow a bit laughable or indecent in contrast to the mountains’ natural majesty).

No matter how small or insignificant one is in the entire system, one can anchor oneself with one’s loved ones, right?

And yet, here the zoom wheel can slip as well. Rolling forward it’s the little person with his life ahead of him. Rolling back it’s the unusual and distinguished lives my grandparents lived, the achievements of my parents. My father lived his earliest years in the forest with the Yugoslav partisans after his village was burned down in WWII. Which again zooms me out to “human history”, which I perceive to be strung together from different wars except for the unusually good behavior we seem to be exhibiting currently (and the odd article here or there which mentions that not all humans fought all the time in all places and the evidence of some stone-age people being sensitive souls).

And then I wonder why I’m living now and not then, and realize that it’s mundane to be living now, because you’re more likely to be living during the time when more people are living.

But the problem of population, if it is a problem (besides the aesthetic problems of criss-crossed countrysides or shaved mountains, or, OK, fresh water crises, global warming, species extinction, etc.), may again be dwarfed by the approaching singularity, which might render the number of human beings irrelevant.

Though no matter our eventual fate, it seems odd that we seem to be alone in this neighborhood of our universe,

which, if we zoom out further in some weird way, may only be one of many universes…

Fortunately I find the *&#@* life zoomTM reset button just in time.



As the indignities of air travel pile on, I had come to view the little ‘personal entertainment device’ embedded in the seat in front of me as a welcome, optional, escape. But on a recent Delta SFO->JFK trip and back, that friendly device had been turned on me. As we were strapped in and the plane was gaining altitude, the little screen turned on by itself and started playing ads while the messages blared over the loudspeakers: ‘Buy a car. Choose a luxury hotel…’. In vain I tried to turn the screen off by pushing the nominal power button. The function had been disabled.  My headphones were not isolating enough to block out the sound of the speakers. It felt vaguely like::


Aug 112012

My past relationships predate social media of the Friendster and later type. So being friended or circled or followed by an ex on social media can’t be a case of ‘Oops, forgot to unfriend/uncircle/unfollow’. But these connections do pique my interest, not because there’s anything much to say, but because there might be interesting news & quirky thoughts to follow. After all, if I can be curious about gossip regarding celebrities from shows I don’t even watch, this is bound to be more interesting. Did I just admit to reading a gossip blog? (BTW, if you’d be interested in creating a Gossipedia, please let me know. If anything needs to be compiled and sources identified, then its gossip.).

Connections that ended almost as soon as they started are both odd and well-suited candidates for something as light and feathery as Twitter.


Jul 032012

This year I had the great honor of giving one of the keynote talks at the ICWSM conference, a conference I had been attending and enjoying for years. I ended up delivering the keynote on 4 hours of sleep, despite 10 months lead time to prep the talk. I don’t know how to explain it, except:

Lada channeling James Franco in photo op.Lada channeling James Franco in photo op.

Which is how a squinty photo of me (along with perfectly well-rested looking John Breslin, Igor Perisic, and Jimi Shanahan) ended up in the Irish Times.

Lada channeling James Franco in photo op.

I’d like to think I was just channeling James Franco, who always looks a bit squinty, because he is too awesomely busy to get any sleep.

who is reading

[By 'you' I mean me, but it's easier to say 'you'] You spend sleepless nights and frustrating days working on a problem, pushing the limits of your data-analysis, algorithmic and analytical know-how, following obscure and not-so-obscure leads through the literature,  until, one day, it clicks. Your model actually fits the data. And no one has even seen data like this before. You’ve made a scientific discovery!

eurekaA colleague who hears you gushing about the result suggests you submit it to Nature. Although you have only written up bits and pieces during the course of the research, it’s too late now, those bits have become the “Nature” paper.

Even in this incomplete state, the “Nature” paper changes you. It makes you feel important, special. You go to conferences and are surprised to find that a lot of other researchers have “Nature” papers.

conferenceAfter a bit of initial angst that they may actually have your “Nature” paper, you wonder a) if Nature will have enough room and b) if these people seem a bit delusional, am I delusional too?

As you spend weeks to months doing the last 10% of the work to make the paper 100% ready for submission, you try to handle the anxiety of getting scooped. Mornings are the worst, as you read arxiv or Google News headlines (because of course, any paper that did what your “Nature” paper does would capture the headlines).

checking newsUntil one day it happens. Your office mate has spotted a Nature (no quotes) paper on X, and your “Nature” paper is on X. Your stomach turns, you quickly skim the paper. Relief: the paper says X, it’s not your X.


After that scare, your work pace gets even crazier. Gotta finish that last 1%, triple-check all results. You send the paper to a few people who regularly publish in Nature. When they say they like it, you’re over the moon. And if they ask where it’s going to, you reluctantly admit your aspirations.

where are you submitting to?When you’re not working, you daydream. You imagine your PhD advisor, mom, dad, long-ago flame just happening to read your paper, because they all read Nature or at least used to or at least used to say they do.

who is readingYou’ve delayed as long as possible, but it is time to do the final formatting. You create a new folder, and give it a name e.g. “Nature2012″ which will forever serve as a painful reminder of your unsuccessful attempt if the paper is rejected.

the folderNow you are ready to begin formatting. Inexplicably, you are asked to take your perfectly well-formatted paper, tear out the figures, upload them as separate files (which you will have to rename, resize, and resort), separate out the figure captions (to ensure that the reviewers will have the most difficult time figuring out what you are talking about when referring to a figure), and then wait for the submission system to glue them back together in the most impractical and unreadable form possible. This will take hours to days.

formatting the submissionFinally, you submit. It’s a strange feeling. The creation you have labored so hard for is now in someone else’s hands. There is emptiness. You start to think about other things in life besides the “Nature” paper. Life returns to “normal”. Then…


gloom[To be continued in other fine publication venues...]



I have been puzzled by the styling of new cars in the past few years, which appears to shrink rear passenger windows.

Take for example this 2012 car (Kia Rio), relative to its 2008 version (which already has a smallish rear passenger window).

Perhaps the styling around the side view mirror is playing visual tricks on me and there hasn’t been much change 2008-2012. However, one thing I’m sure about is that the 1991 Honda Civic (arguably the best car ever designed and built), is positively an aquarium relative to the newer models.

I can think of 2 reasons for this development: fashion and safety. I sincerely hope it is fashion, because fashions come and go, but boring safety is always there to stay. And in this case it really is boring. A small boy who loves cars, trucks, and buses, but rides in a newer model car, only has a chance to see the occasional airplane or tree/bus/truck tops.

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