Monday, September 09, 2013

Life at Simons

There have been many posts on the technical talks happening at Simons (see +Moritz Hardt's latest on gradient descent if you haven't yet). Not as many yet on the less-formed discussions that are happening in and around the building, but maybe it's too soon for that.

In the meantime, I thought it might be fun to describe "a day at Calvin Hall".

I usually bike in after 9 am. Biking in Berkeley is not for the (literally) weak-kneed, and I'm discovering how weak my knees actually are. I haven't yet found a good site to plot elevation gains and losses for an arbitrary route, but this one is pretty decent.

The Institute lends out bikes if you don't have your own. It's a great way to get around if you're staying near campus, because parking is difficult and expensive.

Of course, the next step is:

It's a great machine. Only downside is that it shuts down at 5pm when the building does. But there are plenty of cafes around for later.

Then of course the decision: which talks should I feel guilty about missing today ? There are A LOT OF TALKS going on at the various workshops/boot camps. I feel embarrassed complaining about this, because we have such a stellar crowd of speakers and such fascinating talks. But there are almost too many talks: I have to shut down the feelings of guilt in order to find big chunks of time to think (or write this blog post <ahem>).

Thankfully, there's the live stream. I've already mentioned the Simons livestream on G+, but it's worth mentioning again. If you're late to the start of any talk you can watch it on the high quality live feed. If you can't watch it live you can watch it as soon as it's done on the Ustream site for the event. And a few days after that the talks are archived on the Simons site directly. There's also this cute feature where the live stream plays the most recent talk during coffee breaks. I know people outside the Institute are watching talks live because someone pinged me on twitter to ask the speaker to repeat questions they get from the audience.

So I've either attended talks or I've spent the morning brainstorming on some of the projects I have going. It's now time for lunch: thankfully, we're walking distance from both Northside and Southside Berkeley, which means a huge variety of eating places all within 5-10 minutes walking. All we need to do is avoid the huge class let-out at 12:20 or so. On Tuesdays we have a lunch seminar (organized by +Moritz Hardt) as part of the big-data program.

Once we're back, it's time for this:

Did I mention that the coffee machine is awesome ?

Usually, discussions start picking up in the afternoon, and you'll often find me here:

3:30 is time for the daily tea, at which we get all kinds of nice cookies, and the occasional cake/ice cream (on thursdays). This is much like the Dagstuhl tea time, but without the fancy tortes (hint hint!). Of course, no daily tea is complete with the addition of this:

By five, people are starting to trickle out slowly. On Tuesdays we have a happy hour at a local bar ($3 pints!). And it's time for me to check the sad state of my knees for the ride back, which is hard because it's uphill both ways !

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