Thoughts of a geek

18 February 2013

String colouring

Filed under: Maths — Tags: , — qwandor @ 8:08 am

One of my colleagues has an interesting combinatorial problem, perhaps the mathematically-minded among you might be interested to think trying to find a solution:

“I’m trying to work out the minimum size of a colouring of strings on a finite ordered alphabet, as follows.

Let Q be the set of integers from 1 to q, {1,…,q}

We consider all strings of length n on Q represented as path graphs with labelled edges:

Let G be the set of all qn path graphs consisting of n+1 nodes and n edges where there is an edge between node ni and ni+1 for each i = {1,…,n} and each edge is labelled with a integer from Q.

For any two nodes e and g on a graph in G, let max(e,g) be the highest label on the path between e and g.

Each node x in each graph in G is assigned a colour colour(x) from a set of colours C such that the following constraint holds:

For any pair of colours (a,b) from C, there is an integer f(a,b) in Q, such that whenever a and b appear on a graph in G, say colour(x) = a and colour(y) = b, then max(x,y) = f(a,b).

Question:

  • If q is constant, what is the minimum size of C?
  • What is the minimum number of colours I need to colour there graphs so that the maximum label between a pair of colours is always the same?

So far, I’ve manage to bound the minimum size of C between O(nq) and Ω(n logn). ie. O(nq) colours are sufficient but it can’t be done with fewer than Ω(n logn) colours.

Can you

  1. Show that there is a colouring of size O(n logn) or
  2. Come up with a higher lower bound? For example, show that a colouring has to be at least say 0.5n0.5q to respect this constraint

This problem has ratifications on unsolved problems in complexity theory related to the complexity of parity games and modal mu.”

Any thoughts? It has been far too long since I have done any real maths.

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9 February 2013

2012 in review

Filed under: Lists, Me — Tags: , , , , , , — qwandor @ 10:47 am

At the start of last year I wrote out some objectives for the year. This is a bit late being February already, but now that it is 2013 it is time to review how they worked out over the year. So going through the list from that post:

  • See some more of the world: I did see some more of the world. I did the east coast trip, and caught up with Teresa, Jordan and Kirsten. Unfortunately I did not manage to see Dave or Carlton, or various other people further away. It was enjoyable, I saw some new things (Niagara Falls, museums in DC, Boston…), met some new people, and had some fun dances. I went to Poland and Hungary, which ticks off the two more European countries. Though I think my intent with this was to take two trips, so I did not quite do that. I toured around Scotland for 9 days with my parents, which was excellent (apart from the rain), and we saw lots of beautiful scenery and castles. The only new place I went in the UK other than that was down to the Isle of Wight with some interns and other Googlers, which was pleasant enough.
    • Visit the east coast of the US / Canada, and see at least 3 of the 5 friends I know over that way: 0.9
    • Visit at least 2 more European countries: 0.8
    • Visit Scotland: 1.0
    • Visit 2 more places in the UK: 0.5

    Overall: 0.8

  • Improve my dancing (and enjoy it): Dance-wise, I did a couple of workshops and a few classes in Balboa, but then did not keep it up or get practice much. I have not really done any in the last six months or so. I have done a fair bit of Lindy and blues though, including going to several weekend festivals (Blues Shakedown, Berlin Blues Explosion, Blues Baby Blues). I went to LSF again as well, though did not find it as good as 2011. I did a bit of Lindy in Wellington while I was back, and it made it along to one night of NZX up in Auckland as well. Getting friends along proved a bit more difficult. Oh, and I managed to find some Lindy or blues in Toronto, Krakow, and of course New York City when I was there (which were variable, but interesting nonetheless), plus a great contra in Princeton.
    • Learn at least one new dance this year (probably Balboa): 0.3
    • Go out for social swing (Lindy Hop) dancing regularly: 1.0
    • Take some classes / workshops to improve my blues: 1.0
    • Do some swing and/or blues with friends while I am back in NZ visiting: 0.8
    • Go to the London Swing Festival again: 1.0

    Overall: 0.8

  • Work out where I stand with God, and what that means: No progress on this one really.
    • Discuss more with some friends. Not sure exactly what: 0.2
    • Finish reading some of the books that are on my shelf, and write up some responses to them: 0.1

    Overall: 0.1

  • Improve my social life, and build and maintain a good group of friends with whom I regularly do things: I had a people over for a barbecue for my birthday. I cannot remember what else, maybe that was all?
    • Host at least 3 social gatherings (parties / dinners / whatever) at my flat: 0.3
    • Any other ideas I come up with: 0.0

    Overall: 0.2

  • Improve how I dress: I bought a suit to wear to Daniel and Sharon’s wedding, and have not worn it since. It felt awkward. Otherwise no improvements to my fashion sense or wardrobe.
    • Buy a suit, or at least something a bit more formal, for the odd occasion when that might be necessary: 0.8
    • Find other ways to improve in general: 0.0

    Overall: 0.4

  • Maintain other hobbies: I did some baking, but do not think I made stuff for other people as often as once a month sadly. I did not do any work on theQuotebook, Fridge or anything else, nor any further electronics projects.
    • Bake something for other people at least once a month, preferably more often: 0.4
    • Do some work on my existing programming projects such as theQuotebook and Fridge: 0.0
    • Do some work on electronics projects, such as the paper keyboard I started on last year, some kind of floor instrument, or something else based on the Teensy: 0.0

    Overall: 0.1

I have some ideas for this year as well (and have even started on one of them), but I will leave that for another post, and I think I will organise them differently.

30 December 2012

4 months

Filed under: Me, Travel — Tags: , , , , , , , , — qwandor @ 3:29 am

It has been ages since I last posted, so I guess it is high time I wrote something again. A have done a fair bit in the mean time:

The weekend after my trip to Amsterdam was Blues Shakedown, a blues dance exchange in London with 8 different bands plus plenty of DJs playing for lots of dancing all weekend. I was a little apprehensive as it was the first such event I had been to, but it was great fun and I was very glad I went. I definitely plan to go again next year assuming I am still around by then.

My parents came to visit in September. On first arriving in the country they spent a week by themselves in a cottage in the Lakes District, then I met them up in Glasgow and we spent a week driving around Scotland, visiting Glasgow, Oban, Skye, Inverness, Pitlochry and Edinburgh. Scotland is pretty, and it was nice to see some hills again; London is much too flat for my taste. The west coast of Scotland has particularly nice scenery, and reminded me a lot of parts of New Zealand. We saw lots of castles, lots of rain, and a fair few lochs and hills. There are plenty of photos in the usual place.

From Glasgow

They then spent another week by themselves in the Peaks District before continuing on down to London to stay with me for a week. It was nice to finally be able to show them around some of the city I have been living in for more than two and a half years now, and we went out to see a musical and a play as well (Singing in the Rain, and One Man, Two Guvnors; both were good). They then spent another week enjoying the warm weather in Greece before heading home via Singapore.

Shortly after my parents left London I headed to Berlin for Berlin Blues Explosion, the first weekend in October. It was also good fun, if rather exhausting. I met some nice new people there too.

On 20th–26th October my friend Chris Wood came to stay and see a bit of London. He was over from NZ for work, so stayed on a little as a tourist while he was over this side of the world.

Warsaw: With Andrzej and Małgorzata

I then flew to Warsaw the night of the 26th, to spend 9 days travelling around Poland and Hungary, catching up with a few friends and seeing some new places. I stayed with Agnieszka (who had been an intern at Google London) in Warsaw, and also caught up with Małgorzata and Andrzej, whom I met through Charlotte in Uppsala last year. Apparently it had been around 20°C the week before I arrived, but when I got there it was below 0, and it was snowing much of the time I was there, which made sightseeing less pleasant. Nonetheless it was interesting to see Warsaw, and I had a really good hot chocolate (with ginger and orange) at a nice café there. On Sunday we took a daytrip to Lublin, and then on Tuesday night flew down to Budapest where we stayed a couple of nights with a friend of Agnieszka’s.

From Budapest: Looking out from Gellért Hill

Budapest was beautiful, though unfortunately quite rainy. Not as cold as Warsaw at least, though. The photos tell most of the story. On Thursday evening we flew up to Krakow and I stayed 3 nights there in a backpackers’ hostel, but unfortunately Agnieszka was not feeling well and had to go home early. Along with the usual sightseeing and a couple of guided walking tours of the city, I met up with Nina (whom I had met at the aforementioned Berlin Blues Explosion a few weeks earlier) and some of her friends. She happened to have a friend in town for the weekend as well, so the 3 of us plus another of her friends did a bit of sightseeing together, which was nice. It also happened that the friend, Jordan, was planning a visit to London later in the year, which worked out well as I was then able to show her around London.

Back in London, the London Jazz Festival was on so I went to a couple of different free gigs as part of that: on Saturday 10th November there were 3 different bands playing at the Royal Festival Hall, and on Sunday there were 4 bands, all from Finland, playing at the Barbican. Unfortunately there were big gaps inbetween their sets, so I left after the first couple, but they were all good music.

The following weekend was time for yet more blues dancing, with Blues Baby Blues happening in London. I really enjoyed it, learnt quite a bit I think, and again made some new friends.

I had been thinking for some time lately about changing churches, for a number of reasons, and so in November I decided to check out All Souls Langham Place again. It is a large central London church, near Oxford Circus, and some of you may know it as the church where John Stott was rector for some time, and closely associated with until his death. I had been to All Souls a few times in the past, and was always impressed with the quality of the preaching and depth of thought that seems to go into everything, but this time I also found it to be quite friendly, more so than I had noticed in the past. So I went along to an open evening to learn a bit more about the church, and have now started attending regularly. It seems like a really good church so far, so if any of you reading this are in London, you should come along with me to a service there some time!

I had three different American Thanksgiving meals this year. There was a Thanksgiving themed lunch at work on Thursday 22nd November, which was alright. That evening an American couple I am friends with, Sean and Sarah, had invited me to a Thanskgiving dinner at their place with about 12 or so people. Sarah and a friend of hers had cooked an amazing meal, and the company was good too. Then on the following Saturday another American friend (Jennifer) hosted a pot-luck Thanksgiving meal at her flat, which was also full of tasty food. There was just so much of it! At first there was a reasonable amount of food, but then people kept arriving with more and more pies and cakes, and despite all eating too much there was still heaps left over.

The next weekend Jordan (the friend of Nina’s whom I met in Krakow) was in town. She is from Texas but spending the year working in a small town in Poland, and trying to travel around Europe as much as she can. She arrived late Friday night and left Sunday morning, so only had the Saturday to see London, but we managed to fit a lot in: starting at Baker Street we walked through Regent’s Park, up Primrose Hill, along Regent’s Canal to Camden Lock, then spent a while wandering through much of the Camden markets. We then took the Tube down to Leicester Square for a quick around there, Chinatown and Trafalgar Square, along The Mall for a brief glance at Buckingham Palace, back through St. James’s Park, past the Horse Guards, along Whitehall, Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey, Dean’s Yard, then across Westminster Bridge. We walked all along the Southbank, with a brief walk through the Tate Modern, a detour through Borough Market and Southwark Cathedral, then across Tower Bridge for a look around the Tower of London. We discovered a little church there which I had noticed before, which had a small free museum in its crypt, featuring among other things some original Roman tilework. We then walked past St. Paul’s Cathedral to poke our heads in, by which point it was getting dark already, so we just had a quick look at some of the remnants of London Wall around the Barbican before heading home. Not bad for a day’s looking around though! I think that may well have been the most of London I have managed to show someone in a single day.

In December we had two work Christmas parties, one just for engineering at the Natural History Museum Earth Hall, and one for all London Googlers at some big club on the Southbank. The latter was extremely crowded much of the time, but the snowball fight was fun.

Christmas itself was pretty low-key. All my flatmates except for Steph were away with their families in various different places, and Steph had her sister and father visiting. Unfortunately her father only speaks German, and I only speak English, which made conversation rather limited. On Christmas Day itself I just went to church in the morning, then went to visit a friend for a bit in the afternoon, for some tasty lasagne. Boxing day was even less eventful. Work has been pretty quiet all this week, especially on Monday, but hopefully more people will be back next week.

Well I guess that is all my news for now. Next up, what to do this year… any suggestions?

8 September 2012

A weekend in Amsterdam

Filed under: Photos, Travel — Tags: , , , — qwandor @ 6:20 am

Monday 27th August was a bank holiday, so I went to Amsterdam for the long weekend. Unfortunately it rained a lot for most of the weekend, with Saturday and Sunday alternating between torrential downpours and nice sunny weather every half hour or so. Other than that it was a good trip though, and I got to see some interesting things, as perhaps you have already seen in my photos.

Amsterdam: A well-known sign of the city’s slogan

It happened coincidentally that one of the interns who is working at Google London over the summer — a girl from New York named Erica — had also decided to go to Amsterdam that same weekend. We had each booked independently several weeks beforehand, but discovered the day before that we were both going there when another intern mentioned it to me. A number of other Googlers also happened to be in and around Amsterdam the same weekend, but they were busy with other things, so the two of us met up to walk around sightseeing together most of Saturday, Sunday and Monday morning. We were staying in different parts of the city but not too far away. There also happened coincidentally to be a free music and arts festival on that weekend called Uitmarkt, so we went to see and listen to some of that at various points on Saturday and Sunday. Among other things the Holland Symphonia was playing a selection of Eurovision hits on the Saturday night, and songs from various popular musicals on Sunday night. A few of the latter were in English but most were in Dutch, so it was funny to hear songs I recognised (like those from Wicked) but in a different language. There were also songs from The Sound of Music, The Little Mermaid, Fame, The Buddy Holly Story, Yab Yum, and various others.

Amsterdam: Songs from Wicked in Dutch

We went to the Amsterdam Museum on Saturday to escape the rain for a while, which was reasonably interesting. Among other things they had models of houses from different periods of Dutch history. We also walked around a number of parks, which were nice but no doubt would have been much nicer had it not been raining much of the time.

Amsterdam: We came across this strange playground equipment on Saturday

On Sunday we took a daytrip to Volendam and Edam, which are nice old towns a short distance out of Amsterdam, with more traditional architecture (and lots of tourists). It was cool to see what we could in-between the downpours. I had been advised that it is nice to bike up there, but the weather being what it was we decided to catch a bus instead. Later in the afternoon we visited the NEMO science museum, which I found a bit disappointing. It was mostly just the standard basic science stuff, not terribly well done, and very much aimed at kids. Definitely nothing to compare to the Science Museum in London or the Deutsches Museum in Munich, the latter still being probably my favourite museum of any that I have visited.

Amsterdam: Little houses in the old town of Volendam

Funnily enough, on the Sunday night as I was sitting on a couch in the youth hostel, catching up on Facebook, Twitter and IRC before going to bed, there happened to be a Chinese girl sitting to my right with her Mac. Looking over her shoulder she seemed to be compiling something and reading something programming-related online. After a while we ended up chatting, and it turned out she was working through Stripe CTF 2.0, a set of web app cracking puzzles. Furthermore, it happened that she also lives in New York and studies computer science at Columbia. I mentioned that I had a couple of friends doing their PhDs at Columbia, and sure enough it turned out that she was friends with Erica but did not know that she was in Amsterdam at the same time. So, we ended up working together on the cracking puzzle for a bit before I went to bed, and then the three of us toured together for a bit on the Monday morning and early afternoon before Erica and I had to catch our respective flights back to London. Monday was thankfully sunny so we walked around some parks and nice areas in the east central part of Amsterdam, and bought some Stroopwafel as I had been instructed by one of the other interns who used to study in Amsterdam. We also took a free ferry across the harbour to see what was on the other side, but it was not particularly exciting.

Amsterdam: Strange creatures we came across

22 July 2012

Busyness and loneliness

Filed under: Me, The Blog Roll — Tags: , , — qwandor @ 10:37 am

This post has two parts which I mostly wrote at different times and are not very well tied together, but they relate to the same topic so I am posting them together. The first part was written mostly some days ago in the middle of the night on my phone while lying in bed and only slightly edited later; the second was written this afternoon and evening based on various thoughts and conversations over the last several weeks. Perhaps a better editor than I could link them together properly. I will leave you to make of them what you will.

I live a privileged life. I live in one of the great cities of the world. I have a job at a great company where I earn more than the vast majority of people in the world, work with a bunch of really intelligent and interesting people, get free food and various other benefits and am not overly stressed. There are plenty of things going on in London to see and do, places to go, and almost any sort of entertainment available. All of Europe is fairly easily accessible, given the time and motivation to actually organise a trip somewhere. I could go on.

And yet, there is something missing.

And yet, in the times when I do not keep myself busy, in the hours between coming home and getting to restless sleep, when I think a little, perhaps near a contemplative mood, I am frequently lonely and dissatisfied. People talk about the modern curse of busyness, but perhaps sometimes this is what it is an escape from. An attempt to avoid stopping and thinking, and realising how pointless it all is, how alone we are.

A friend of mine (whose blog you should read, he writes interesting stuff) shared a link to this article about busyness a little while ago, which I think makes some good points. The main thrust of the argument is that people make themselves unnecessarily busy, and even get addicted to busyness, and consequently do not have time free to spend with friends, relax, or have the quiet and idleness necessary for much creativity. The author ends with saying “I’ve always understood that the best investment of my limited time on earth was to spend it with people I love.”. I shared it with some other friends on Facebook to see what they thought, and several commented that not having enough to do can also be an unpleasant situation.

So where is the middle ground? Or are these two problems really different faces of the same issue? I think at least part of the problem here comes back to community. At least in my case, the times when I find myself unhappy or unstimulated and not having enough to do (or more commonly, enough motivation to find things to do, or do the things there are to do) often come down to loneliness, not having people around with whom to have stimulating conversations, go and do things, or just hang out in a low-key manner. And so I try to keep myself booked up with things to do, places to go, so as to try to avoid having these empty gaps where I think too much. And so I am Busy. But why do I have this problem in the first place? Well, at least partly because everyone is too busy to just hang out. Too booked out weeks or months in advance with things to go to to have the spare time to spend a lazy afternoon not doing anything in particular, or an evening just cooking together, eating and chatting. And here I am becoming part of the problem. So I can hardly blame anyone else! But I do think I remember this being easier back in Wellington. Or is it just a case of the grass seeming greener on the other side of the fence?

So what is the solution? Is it just a matter of trying harder to organise informal social activities, and keeping myself open to spontaneity? But what do I do in the times when nothing eventuates? Maybe I need to get back into programming and electronics in my spare time, but I have lacked much motivation for quite some time.

While chatting with my friend Jordan in New York a few weeks ago, we noted that we are opposites in a number of ways. She has too many demands on her time from people she cares about and so cannot make time for all of them, while I often wish I had more. She is great at getting inspired about new projects and things to do, but often struggles then to follow through, whereas I tend to be pretty good at following through with things once I get into them (perhaps sometimes to the point of obsession), but frequently lack the initial inspiration; I instead struggle to work out what to do, or to decide between options (particularly when I do not have enough information as to what the consequences of the decision will be). I think the opposites of over-busyness versus not having enough to do (or motivation or people, as discussed above) come in here too.

On a vaguely related note, I have noticed recently that talking to and spending time with people seems to be something that gets easier, and I get better at, after doing it for a while. This seems to be mostly a short-term effect (much like with dancing actually; I find the same thing particularly for blues dancing). After spending just an hour or two talking with people — and I mean properly talking, have a good deep conversation with one or two others where we are all contributing and thinking — I seem to get better at expressing myself, putting my thoughts into words, asking the right questions, and just generally communicating better. But after a few days or perhaps a week I am back to my usual self. Perhaps if I had the opportunity to have this sort of conversation regularly the improvement would last longer term? I am not sure.

Well, after all that, does anyone want to hang out sometime, bake, go for a walk, eat, or just talk?

Oh, and should I move to Sydney? Is it any better there, and is it enough to justify the cost of starting from scratch again?

17 July 2012

Narcissism or self improvement

Filed under: Me — Tags: , — qwandor @ 8:31 am

During my recent visit to New York, a couple of good friends gave me some advice on things I should work on to improve how I relate to other people, and particularly how I communicate. The 5 main points (I think), were that I should:

  1. Stop and think before saying things, particularly with regard to how direct I am. I tend to be quite direct and straightforward in what I say, and I think that this is mostly a good thing, but sometimes I can be perceived as overly confrontational, which can be unhelpful as it makes some other people (perhaps especially those I do not know so well) defensive and so hinders communication. So I guess I need to think more about politeness, while still trying to be clear. This has been pointed out to me before in a work context too, so I think it is definitely something I need to work on.
  2. Think how others will react to and feel about what I say and do. This is related to the first point, but a bit broader. This seems fairly obvious and something I already knew, but it is good to have a reminder. Part of the difficulty here is how to build an accurate mental model of how other people think, which I do not think I am very good at.
  3. Acknowledge good things (and do so first). In written discussion in particular, I often tend to ignore the parts of a comment or argument that I agree with (hey, I agree with them, so I do not have anything to say about them) or otherwise have no opinion about, and just jump straight to the bits I disagree with or want to dig further on. This is how I expect people to respond to me, and it seems inefficient to discuss some point about which I do not have anything more to contribute to the conversation, but as was recently pointed out to me on this very blog (thanks Daniel!) this puts some people off further conversation. My intent in arguing is the opposite, so this is problematic. I think the issue may be that some people assume that silence means disagreement, whereas I assume it means agreement? Anyway, apparently the solution is to start be acknowledging the parts I agree with, and I guess to thank people where appropriate. This comes back to the first point a bit again, sacrificing efficiency for politeness. This seems like a fairly straightforward solution, but getting into the habit of actually remembering to apply it is likely to take a while. If you notice me not doing this, please remind me!
  4. Accept compliments before arguing. Apparently I am bad at accepting compliments and tend to argue with them. I had not particularly noticed this myself, so will have to try to pay more attention in future. If you notice this please point it out to me.
  5. Read a book about reading people. I am not quite sure what was in mind here, and am not entirely convinced that this sort of thing can be taught well by a book. But if you have any recommendations let me know.

Do any of you who know me have any other advice to add to this list? Or have you had any useful feedback about yourself? How have you applied it? How possible is it to change how you communicate and relate to other people?

I thought a bit myself as well, and a couple of observations of myself were:

  • I used to be much better at concentrating, less distractable. Unfortunately as I have got older my ability to concentrate on a single complex task, particularly to just sit think about something, think through how to solve a problem in my head, seems to have decreased. This is unfortunate.
  • On the topic of relating to other people, I tend to assume (at least subconsciously) that people are / work like me; the problem is that they are not. As I am learning, many of them work and think in completely different ways. Relationships may be much less symmetric than I tend to assume; the other person does not necessarily feel the same way about me as I do about them, nor even about the relationship itself. This makes it difficult to model how they will react (as required for point 2 above), and generally to understand them and the motivations behind their actions.

30 June 2012

Flirting? Or really, relationships and stuff.

Filed under: Christianity, The Blog Roll — Tags: , , , , — qwandor @ 10:56 am

Continuing on with this group-blogging thing, people are writing about flirting. This is an interesting topic, and not one I know a whole lot about. The discussion started with reading this article, which some of us found helpful and interesting (at least in parts), and some had a strong negative reaction to.

A related topic which I think is also interesting to discuss is the issue of why people date (or court, or whatever you want to call it. Pursue relationships with the opposite sex of a romantic nature. Or with the same sex for that matter I guess.) What are people’s intentions in pursuing such relationships? What do they expect of the other party? How do they convey those intentions, and how are they interpreted and understood (or often, misinterpreted and misunderstood)? What happens when the intentions and expectations do not match? Do the intentions and expectations of one party bias how they interpret the actions of the other?

Coincidentally I have ended up having some interesting conversations about some of these issues with a number of intelligent, thoughtful and insightful friends lately, which have been enlightening and thought-provoking. For a start, I have been reminded how different different people’s intentions can be. I guess everyone has a complex mix of motivations and intentions, and these can change as they grow older and mature. Even over the course of a particular relationship these change, which introduces further complications.

One motivation, obviously, is sex. Stereotypically this tends to be a stronger motivation for guys than for girls, and I expect that this has some bearing on reality — though no doubt the stereotype is also biased by social expectations, where sexual desire is associated with promiscuity, and promiscuity is more socially acceptable among males than among females. (As a side note, I do not think that it is wise for either. But that is not the main point here.) One friend related her frustrations at a number of guys she dated, while being interesting and good guys, being significantly motivated by sex, while she just was not after that, and had quite different things she wanted to get out of a relationship.

Some people are looking for a life partner. They see dating primarily as a stage along the way to marriage. Quite a few of my friends are Christians (as am I), and many of them (though not all) fall into this category. Plenty of other people do as well, of course. Some would go so far as to say that you should never date someone unless you intend to seriously consider marrying them, and furthermore that a high degree of emotional and physical distance should be maintained, that degree of intimacy and attachement being reserved solely for marriage. Another friend recently posted this article from an American conservative Christian website for young people espousing such a view. Well, perhaps I exaggerate a little. A number of my friends hold to this sort of view. I am not sure how wise or practical it is, and I do not think the majority would hold to that extreme.

Some people see dating, or romantic relationships in general, as an opportunity to experiment, learn more about people, and have fun, without ever intending for it to be a long-term thing. They are happy to date someone for a time while knowing and intending from the start that it will not last, and to break it off when the time comes. I was reminded of this by a couple of different friends recently, and while I struggle to understand their position it does not seem uncommon in the wider world either.

Some people want fun and excitement. They are after new experiences, surprises, someone to laugh with, to inspire them, to show them things they had not thought of before.

Some people want someone to care for them, somebody they can talk to about anything and everything. To check up on them, support them when times are tough, and just be there for each other.

Most people, of course, are after all of these things, and many others, in some complex and changing mix. They are by no means exclusive categories, or even all the same sort of category, but rather some of the many different motivations and intentions that people may have. Perhaps you can think of more to add to the list, so by all means post them below.

Problems, misunderstandings and hurt often happens when people go into a relationship with different intentions and expectations. Properly communicating and interpreting them is a difficult problem.

Well, I have just written quite a lot about a topic I have very little experience in! To continue with that, but perhaps add in a little bit of personal experience, we come back to the actual topic of flirting.

Flirting seems to mean many different things to different people, so we have a problem not just of actual actions but of terminology. Some other people blogging about it in this group have described it as being “pleasant and interested”, some as “appearing interested, appearing interesting, being aware of the other’s [dis]interest”. Some think of it as more of a sort of teasing interaction, hinting at interest but then backing away coyly waiting for a reaction, alternating between pursuing and being pursued. Perhaps this is more the feminine side of it, I daresay it tends not to work symmetrically between both sides. Coquettish is another word that comes to mind for this idea of it. The guide which started this whole discussion distinguishes between “flirting for fun” and “flirting with intent”, which I think is a useful distinction to make.

Frith makes the good point that it is often hard to separate “flirting” from “everyday affectionate interaction”, and I quite agree. Another friend to whom I was talking recently described similar issues, where what she considered just ordinary physical affection between friends was sometimes mistaken as an indication of a romantic interest or attraction that was not there. Such misunderstandings are by no means terrible things, but can still be less than ideal. Said friend does tend to be a fairly physical sort of a person (which is a great thing, she gives excellent hugs), but sometimes this can be misinterpreted. Things like dancing, especially styles with close connection like blues, can further blur the lines here. This same friend described it as (sometimes) being “5 minutes of true love then you each go your separate ways”, which I thought it an interesting description (though I probably misquoted it a little). Not to be confused with 2 minutes in heaven. Flight of the Conchords may not be the best source of relationship advice. Though actually, they are probably not much worse than many other sources… but I digress.

A question for the reader here: do you think men or women are in general better at distinguishing friendly physical affection from flirting? Is there a difference?

So perhaps the bigger question is: how does one know whether somebody else is flirting with them? Or more generally, is ‘interested’ in them? Perhaps flirting is being more friendly towards one person in particular than towards other people in general. But in the case of people one does not know very well, how can one find that baseline to compare to? Careful observation seems necessary here. I have been learning lately that I am not as good an observer of people as I used to think I was. Some people are excellent at it though! It certainly seems like a very useful skill to have. And how can one avoid being misinterpreted, if that is an issue?

Oh, I had a random thought in the middle of the night last night: perhaps the imperfect communication is a little like playing 500, where an important part of the game is to find ways to communicate to your partner what you have in your hand and how you intend to play without actually saying anything? You need to work together to give hints to each other, interpret them correctly, and then use that information to win tricks and score more points than the other team… okay, perhaps this analogy does not go quite so far. (Hey, anyone up for a game of 500?)

At this point I would insert a list of examples and ask for you readers’ opinions on which ones were and were not flirting, but I think that might not be wise in a public forum such as this, so will leave that out from here.

To ramble a little more, I wonder also whether we could talk about such a think as ‘anti-flirting’: things people do to indicate to someone else that they are not interested in them in a romantic way, or things which they may inadvertently do which may be interpreted as such. This could include, for example, being careful to keep plenty of physical distance, telling someone that they smell bad, are badly dressed, are not very good looking, or other such things. What examples do you have, of such anti-flirting signals that you have either given or received?

Well that post grew and changed rather a lot from what it was originally going to be. (It is also not very well organised or edited, sorry.) This was partly due to a number of interesting discussion with a few friends recently, which got me thinking more along some new lines. Thanks, people! And let’s continue this discussion, here and elsewhere. It is both interesting in general, and relevant to my interests.

I guess I should finish with a list of other people’s posts on the topic:

I also had another post related to this topic that I started writing back on 10th June, but I will leave that for another post I think, as I had more ideas last night to add to it. In the meantime, comment away!

29 June 2012

Visiting friends, seeing sights — Canada and the USA

Filed under: Travel — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — qwandor @ 11:14 am

I just got back from a great trip around a bit of the northeast side of the USA and Canada, catching up with some old friends and being a bit of a tourist. I managed to catch up with 3 out of the 5 friends I had originally hoped to see, had some great conversations, plenty of dancing, and saw some new places.

I started by flying into Toronto on Friday 15th June, where I stayed with Teresa, a friend from university back in Wellington. She is currently living over there and working as an intern at a charity called Romero House who help to refugees who have resettled there. She seems to enjoy it, but it can be a bit hectic and all-consuming a lot of the time from the sound of it. The last time I went to Toronto was back in January, so it was nice to see what it was like not covered in snow. Kensington Market was cool (thanks for the tip Alex!), and the PATH was rather eerie in summer, with most of the shops closed and few people around (I did not manage to find it last time I went).

On the Saturday night I was there, Teresa had some work to do but mentioned that some of her friends were going to a free concert in town. I asked them who was playing and it turned out to be no other than The Flaming Lips, giving a free concert in Dundas Square! Needless to say I went along. Unfortunately it was very crowded and we got there rather late, so we ended up right near the back and unable to see much, but it was still very cool to go. It was more of a spectacle than a concert per se, with giant balloons bouncing over the crowd, smoke, lasers, video and light effects, strange costumes, a giant hand shooting lasers off a disco ball, and of course Wayne Coyne crowdsurfing in a giant inflatable hamster ball, while they played ambient soundscapes to accompany it all. The only songs I actually recognised were She Don’t Use Jelly and Do You Realize?? right at the end, which everyone sang along to. I also managed to make it along to Saturday Night Swing for a spot of Lindy Hop afterwards, though did not manage to drag anyone along with me this time.

First thing on Monday morning I caught a bus down to Niagara Falls and spent the day there walking around, going on the Maid of the Mist boat tour, and getting wet. I then flew from Buffalo Airport to Washington DC, where I stayed the next 3 nights.

DC was very hot: around 36°C most of my time there, and fairly humid too (though not quite as bad as Singapore or Malaysia). Other than that, it was cool. I visited the Capitol building, sat in on Congress (they were not very exciting), saw lots of different monuments and statues and such, went to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (space ships!) and National Museum of Natural History (rocks!), L. Ron Hubbard’s house (hey, it was there), and various other places.

Next up was New York City, where I stayed with an old flatmate from Wellington, Jordan. Our mutual friend Kirsten also came up from Baltimore to join us for the weekend, and we had a great time catching up. (Or at least I did. (-; You guys had fun too, right?) Jordan is now doing her PhD in oceanography at Columbia University, while Kirsten is doing hers in Pharmacology at John Hopkins University. I have some very smart friends!

I went along to Frim Fram Jam on Thursday night, though it seemed a lot quieter than I expected for some reason. I still got some good dances though. Most of Friday I spent exploring New York by myself as Jordan was working, then Kirsten arrived that evening and the three of us went for some Friday Night Blues. Jordan got into blues around the same time as I did so it was cool to finally get to dance with her, and Kirsten had never done any before but was up for trying so we tried to teach her a bit before we headed out. The New York blues dance scene seems to be more blues fusion, and generally different in style than what I am used to in London, but it was good fun once I got into it.

Saturday consisted mostly of sleeping in late, eating, cooking, and then heading to Princeton for an excellent contra dance. The band in particular (Perpetual e-Motion) were amazing — they are just two guys, but sing and play electric guitar, electric violin, didgeridoo, and synths with live looping for music that has folk, jazz, electronic and pop elements all mixed up together. A bit different to the usual fare. Well worth checking out if you get the chance. Sunday was fairly uneventful after another sleep-in as Kirsten had to head home and Jordan had to work, then I had to get up at 5:25 am on Monday morning to catch my train to Boston.

I liked Boston — it seemed like somewhere I could almost live. Quieter and less touristy than some of the other cities I visited, and the weather was mostly nice apart from a couple of torrential but fortunately not too prolonged downpours. Boston seems quite English in parts, and almost but not quite European in others. I had a bit of a poke around the campus of MIT and peered into some of the labs, and ate lunch at Harvard. (Both are actually in Cambridge rather than Boston itself, but it is just across the river, well within walking distance from central Boston.) I only had the one night in Boston, flying out on Tuesday night to arrive in London midday on Wednesday 27th June and head straight to work. It turns out that if I had stayed another night I could have gone to a contra at MIT! That would have been cool, but I had booked my flights so as to be back in London in time for the Google London engineering summer party on Wednesday night, which was also fun.

A lot of my transport was delayed, for some reason. My flight out to Toronto was delayed and then ran late. The flight from Buffalo to DC was held on the runway due to inclement weather elsewhere causing air traffic control to ground all planes, until we eventually got an exception and ended up an hour or so late. The bus from DC to New York got stuck in traffic and ended up arriving more than 2 hours late. And then the train from New York to Boston broke down due to a lightning strike, and so after they failed to fix it we had to wait for a replacement engine to be sent, and ended up more than 3 hours late. My flight back to London ran pretty much to time though, and clearing customs at Heathrow was much quicker than last time when I came back from New Zealand.

Prices in the US and Canada being given exclusive of sales tax continued to confuse me, especially as they do not even seem to be consistent about it — most prices exclude tax, but occasionally the price given is actually what you pay, so I never knew what to expect. Mostly it just took me a few seconds to work out why I was being asked for more money than what the sign said. And then there are tips to worry about. |-: I was also bemused to note that on the flight to DC the flight attendants went down the aisle taking orders for drinks, then returning with them in batches once they had taken everyone’s orders. It seemed rather less efficient than just wheeling a trolley down to hand them out as they went. I have not seen that before on an aeroplane.

I did take a reasonable number of photos, but have not yet had time to go through to tag, caption and upload them, so they will follow in a little while once I have time to do so. Keep an eye out as usual.

12 June 2012

Contentment

Filed under: Me, The Blog Roll — Tags: , — qwandor @ 9:09 am

People are blogging about contentment. (Specifically this person, this person, this person, and this person. Oh, and this person, how could I forget. You should probably read their posts as they have more interesting things to say than I do.)

I do not have terribly much to say on the topic. I am rarely content. Especially not in winter. I tend to criticise myself a fair bit, as it seems like the first step to improvement. I try to avoid criticising others as much as I am inclined to as they tend not to appreciate it.

But perhaps I am discontent for the wrong reasons. Mostly, for fairly selfish reasons: being unsatisfied with various aspects of my life, or the weather, or whatever. Sometimes I get discontent about wider issues like intellectual property law or poverty or stupidity, and occasionally I may even attempt to do something about them. But not very often.

Anyone else have any insights?

25 May 2012

Dabbling at the edges

Filed under: Me — qwandor @ 10:58 am

I was just reading someone else’s blog, and a thought came to me: I think, often, I tend to be just ‘dabbling at the edges’ of many things. Interested, listening to other people talk, perhaps trying to have a go. But not really a part myself, not properly. Or at least I do not feel like I do. It is part of feeling like an outsider in a group, but perhaps slightly more than that, or perhaps a cause? Hmm. I wonder whether this is a common feeling, and whether it reflects reality.

Quick examples that come to mind: Often in social settings, even just over a meal or whatever, I spend most of my time listening to other people’s conversations, perhaps moving between different conversations, without finding much to add (or much opportunity to do so). I observe a bit of a tendency in myself to join and try lots of things a bit, but not really fully commit to them (though, on the other hand, I can also get a bit obsessive about things once I start getting into them, at least for a while until the next thing comes along). On a recent small project at work I found myself mostly running around between people, helping out with little bits and pieces, rather than really sinking my teeth into a substantial part of the project.

I wonder whether this is a new development. I do think that my attention span has shortened and ability to concentrate deeply has significantly decreased in the last few years. Does anybody have any observations to share, either of me, generally, or personally?

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