Category Archives: life

Nomadism and Burning Man

The past few months had been quite nomadic even by my standards. Visiting the MIRI fellows program, EA Global, Alaska camping (in 4 different parks), CFAR alumni reunion, and finally Burning Man. It was an exciting social time – I had many great conversations and coordinated with various people. It was also tiring to keep up with all the schedule changes, packing and unpacking, and my habits fell through the cracks (meditation, exercise and the like). It is a relief to be back at Citadel with all my stuff in one place, in a stable work and social environment. It almost feels like I’d never left.

It seemed appropriate to conclude the wanderings with Burning Man, which was the most like an actual vacation for me. This year was a good combination of spontaneity and scheduling, adventures and conversations.

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Hamming questions and bottlenecks

The CFAR alumni workshop on the first weekend of May was focused on the Hamming question. Mathematician Richard Hamming was known to approach experts from other fields and ask “what are the important problems in your field, and why aren’t you working on them?”. The same question can be applied to personal life: “what are the important problems in your life, and what is stopping you from working on them?”.

Over the course of the weekend, the twelve of us asked this question of ourselves and each other, in many forms and guises: “if Vika isn’t making a major impact on the world in 5 years, what would have stopped her?”, “what are your greatest bottlenecks?”, “how can we actually try?”, etc. The intense focus on mental pain points was interspersed with naps and silly games to let off steam. On the last day, we did a group brainstorm, where everyone who wanted to receive feedback took a turn in the center of the circle, and everyone else speculated on what they thought were the biggest bottlenecks of the person in the center. By this time, we had mostly gotten to know each other, and even the impressions from those who knew me less well were surprisingly accurate. I am very grateful to everyone at the workshop for being so insightful and supportive of each other (and actually caring).

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2014-15 New Year review

2014 progress

If someone told me at the beginning of 2014 that I would co-found an organization to mitigate technological risks to humanity, I might not have believed them. Thanks Max, Meia, Anthony and Jaan for the great initiative!

I am almost done with my first research project on variable selection and classification using a Bayesian forest model – I simplified the variable partition in the model, came up with better tree updates, added a hyperprior, sped up the algorithm by an order of magnitude, and started testing on real data. Among the other ambitious projects of the past year are two MIRIx workshops plus writing up the results, and starting this blog.

Improvements in personal effectiveness:

  • started using a daily checklist of morning habits
  • started taking melatonin every night
  • started tagging new thoughts
  • started using FollowUpThen to schedule future tasks without overloading my todo list
  • started using Toggl to track work hours only
  • stopped using Beeminder (too stressful), and replaced it with a combination of 42goals and FollowUpThen (works well)
  • quit as President of the Toastmasters club
  • made a volunteer application form for FLI, so that instead of being inundated with 7 freeform emails per month from interested folks, I get the relevant information in an organized spreadsheet and I’m not required to respond

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