How I traveled from Norway to Poland for Christmas this year

I traveled by train, and this post is an account of my experiences and a warning for others who might be attempting the same thing. It costed a lot of money, but most importantly, it was a very exhausting and stressful experience. So if you’re reading this and planning on doing the same thing – don’t.

First of all: why did I do it? Well, there’s a couple of reasons. First was curiosity – I like trains, and I really wanted to try that kind of long international train travel. Second was finance – plane tickets have a tendency of becoming ridiculously expensive before Christmas, and I had a hard time finding the sort of tickets I wanted (BGO–WAW, POZ–BGO), so I figured that trains can be cheaper. In the end they weren’t, but they weren’t significantly more expensive either, and given that I’ve had a lot of flying last month, I decided I’ll give the train a chance.

Secondly: how did I do it? Well I checked a couple of possible connections via the best railway connection finder in the world, and I decided to go like this:

  • morning train from Bergen to Oslo;
  • Oslo to Katrineholm;
  • night train from Katrineholm to Lund;
  • Oresund train accross the sea to Copenhagen;
  • ICE 38 from Copenhagen to Berlin;
  • and a EuroCity from Berlin to Poznań, where I’d meet with my friends and continue to my parents’ place by car.

So that was the plan, and it looked good. In the end I managed to arrive in Poznań on time, but there was a lot of stress and some adventures on the way.

Continue reading “How I traveled from Norway to Poland for Christmas this year”

The Best, Most Elegant iPhone Games of 2013 : The New Yorker

The Year in Elegant iPhone Games

For those of you having Christmas holidays, The New Yorker1 recommends some “elegant” iOS games. I must say I’m not much of a gamer (except for an occasional CS:Source), and I actually never played any games on my iPhone or iPad (except for LetterPress, in which I always lose to Karolina), but still I decided to test some of the games mentioned in the article and, frankly, had my mind blown away. Just like Rothman says: it’s unbelievable how beautifully designed and perfectly engineered these small games are. Stickets is a highly annoying (for the less intelligent among us) and innovative puzzle game (a sort of “twisted” tetris, if you will), Device 6 is a work-of-art adventure game, rymdkapsel is one of the best strategy games I’ve ever played (despite its rudimentary, but aesthetically pleasing2 graphics), and Blek is super smart and has a fun and original game mechanic. So, in other words, each of the games I’ve tested so far is a marvel.

What perhaps is the most beautiful aspect of all these games is that they were developed by small, independent studios, sometimes even by one or two persons. Just like with games sold by Humble Bundle, I realize I enjoy these independent titles much more than big, blockbuster games these days, which means I’m either getting old, or that I’m seeking what Rothman calls “elegance” in gaming, which big titles seldom provide.

Anyways, happy Christmas, and play some games when the family starts getting on your nerves.

  1. Mind you: The snobby New Yorker recommends video games. We live in interesting times. 
  2. Like an Ikea table. 

What AI Should And What It Should Not Be

“It depends on what you mean by artificial intelligence.” Douglas Hofstadter is in a grocery store in Bloomington, Indiana, picking out salad ingredients. “If somebody meant by artificial intelligence the attempt to understand the mind, or to create something human-like, they might say—maybe they wouldn’t go this far—but they might say this is some of the only good work that’s ever been done.”

via The Man Who Would Teach Machines to Think.

A long and interesting read about AI’s most brilliant mind – Douglas Hofstadter – his FARG research group, and the current state of mainstream AI research.

I must say I was rather conflicted reading the article. While I think GEB is probably the most important book I’ve ever read,1 and while Hofstadter is definitely a genius, I’m not entirely sure I agree with discrediting the “small steps” approach present in the article. Coming from a philosophy background into computer science I find that a lot of philosophical research in AI-related fields (like epistemology or logic) is somewhat wishy-washy or superfluous, as is “philosophically-inspired computer science” research.2 Then again I realize that the single most harmful threat to my own community of logics-for-AI or multi-agent-systems is creating various formalisms (algorithms, logics, diagrams…) solely because “we can”, and because it’s always better to have more theorems and proofs, even if no one knows what they’re for. The article linked above provides a somewhat fresh and broad perspective on what AI is today, while trying to answer a question of what AI should be. And these are the issues keynote speakers at big AI conferences should be addressing, trying to inspire people and make them contemplate on the big-picture issues; we don’t need another keynote on SAT solving and ILP.3

  1. Confession: I have never read the whole book. There is a partly interesting story behind it: I started reading it when I was a freshman at MISH, but unfortunately there was only one copy on load at the university library, and I could only borrow it for a month. So I would borrow it, read a couple of chapters, return it within a month, wait until it’s available again (someone would always borrow it), and then go back to reading. After some time I got a bit tired of the routine and stopped reading GEB. I bought my own copy when I was finishing my masters, but my knowledge of AI and logic was broader by then, and I found some later chapters of GEB a tad boring, and thus never finished it. Still, GEB was the very main reason I wanted to work in AI. 
  2. By “philosophically-inspired” CS I mean researchers in computer science who claim doing philosophically relevant work by attempting to capture certain notions in formal ways. Unfortunately, with very few exceptions, these attempts result in work that is philosophically shallow, and not applicable from an engineering/hard-AI point of view. (I feel I just made a lot of enemies by writing this footnote). 
  3. There you go, now I won’t get a post-doc at HKUST. Shit. 

New Zealand

Last week I came to New Zealand for COIN@PRIMA workshop and PRIMA-13 conference. It’s the first time I’m on the southern hemisphere, and I have a couple of observations about New Zealand and the whole Oceania region I’d like to share.

  1. First off, New Zealand is soooper far away from everything. It took me more than 45 hours to get here from Bergen,1 and I just talked to a Kiwi friend who told me Wellington is the most remote capital city in the world, being furthest away from any other capital city. The feeling one has here is that while the country seems rather Western (lots of post-British architecture, English as the official language, lots of familiar products in the shops), it’s very exotic. You see Fiji Airways planes at the airports, and there are weird looking trees, birds and plants everywhere. Also, New Zealanders seem to often (implicitly) refer to Australia as the “big world”. Australia’s where the big cities are, it’s where you go to do your post-doc or PhD, and it’s where many people transfer for intercontinental flights. Still, from a European point of view, Australia is the end of the world in many ways – it’s vast, sparsely populated,2 and very far away from the rest of the world.3 Continue reading “New Zealand”