Road to Somewhere (2017 Q3 Review)

Q3 felt very much like a quarter of consolidation, as opposed to development or novelty. The two main highlights of the quarter for me were IJCAI17 and a rather convoluted hack week project at Palantir that reminded me of the applicability of raw CS theory to daily work (of course, getting an award for technical achievement was great as well).

On the coding front, there was a goal last quarter to merge 30 pull requests on AtlasDB. I hadn’t been tracking this, but it turns out that this target was actually hit on the nose. I’m somewhat surprised, as I was out of the office for two weeks, and a fair bit of my time was spent looking at other projects as well. It is very tempting to set the next goal at 31, and I think I’ll bite – though given a likely winter break and some other leave that I do want to take, I’m somewhat doubtful that I’ll hit 31 in Q4. I also had a good conversation with my lead on possible next steps for growth; I can’t say too much other than that there is consensus, and I’m excited.

Turning towards an academic focus, the elephant in the room is IJCAI 17. I was initially skeptical I would enjoy it. I initially imagined that I would be unable to follow the presenters as they eagerly pushed the boundaries of our AI knowledge. Furthermore, the amount of money I spent on it in total was a very solid chunk of the quarter’s expenditure. However, it turns out these concerns were unfounded. There were some talks that I wasn’t able to follow, likely owing to a lack of familiarity in the relevant field, but many of them were very understandable. In general I really enjoyed the experience; I was impressed by the intellectual depth and complexity of many of the presentations.

The LDLK talk itself also went better than expected; it was scheduled at 8.30 am on a Friday morning, but nonetheless many people showed up! I was happy to present in person; this is one of the few things from my time at Imperial that I can truly say I’m proud of. In general, I also enjoyed the social events, meeting Alessio and subsequently exploring a bit of Melbourne (granted, this does not have an academic focus).

Looking forward, MCMAS-Dynamic still has one more paper that can be wrung from it, this time on some of the later-stage results. The paper is well in the pipeline now, though writing it is proving more difficult than either of the previous papers. When I was writing the thesis, I focused more on getting the algorithm right and implementing it correctly than giving a full formal proof! Thus, the core algorithm remained unchanged, but I certainly waved my hands a fair bit regarding some of the more intricate details.

Financially, my portfolio pretty much went sideways over the period, though a late rally pushed it up a bit, leaving it at plus 0.9 percent (total return). In spite of surges in international stock markets, I think the pound recovered a little bit as well especially towards the end on news of a possible Bank of England rate rise. I also sold off a bunch of pounds when GBPUSD broke 1.35. We can see how this compares against a bunch of other investment options:

(N.B. I have positions in the Fidelity World Index and iShares Global Property Securities Tracker. Also I do have holdings in active funds, although I’ve been comparing with trackers for benchmarking purposes.)

Not too unreasonable. UK stocks look like they outperformed and REITs were pretty battered, hence I did worse than the Vanguard fund. Also, we can see the impact of the pound’s (minimal) recovery in some of the delta between the Fidelity and Vanguard total world funds.

Spending this quarter shot up significantly. The obvious rises were in travel and individual meals, which was to be expected given IJCAI. Clothing expenses fell significantly, though I think there might have been some self-control failures last quarter as the amount spent in Q2 looks absurd in hindsight. I’ve been keeping up the routine of walking to and from work, and this shows in transport expenditures as well. Last year’s mean transport expenditure was 81.82; this quarter’s was 18.80 (and the average for the year-to-date is 25.02). That said, I noticed that I’ve been wearing through shoes faster, but I haven’t weighed that cost in yet!

On the comms front generally things have been going well too, though there have been some minor lapses. I think a fair bit of this is not so much in that I’m not seeing my friends, but in terms of the side activities (reading groups) we used to do more actively and/or diligently. I guess being aware’s the first step here. Also, reconnecting with some friends from high school and from my UTA group has also been great.

I think the period was somewhat gentle overall, but in no way calm. I have a tendency to expect higher standards from myself if things seem easy-going, and this can be stressful (I know, it’s a bit of a perennial struggle for me). I’d toss my standard “A League of Their Own” quotes at it if I’m feeling energetic – good things are often meant to be hard – but for some reason I haven’t always had the energy this time around. Some of this might be due to mild illness (had a cold in Melbourne, now having a cough).

I’m not sure why, but Shawn Mendes’s “Mercy” has been a song I’ve been listening to a fair bit this quarter. The obvious interpretation is one where the speaker is singing to an unreciprocated love interest. However, Mendes has suggested an alternative (about mercy from the stress of his career). I independently came up with another variant; I see the speaker singing it to an idealized, but critical version of himself, which is a voice I have in my head at times. We have from the chorus:

Please have mercy on me, take it easy on my heart
Even though you don’t mean to hurt me, you keep tearing me apart
Would you please have mercy on me, I’m a puppet on your string
And even though you’ve got good intentions, I need you to set me free –

It’s kind of a spirit willing / flesh weak type of problem; there are many things I know I want to do that I think would be beneficial, but I find that my bandwidth is already pretty heavily taxed. “Why aren’t you finishing that feature yet?” “Why aren’t you getting your 8 hours of sleep?” “When are you going to get round to writing that paper?” It’s painful, and at times I need respite, but I still do appreciate this voice. It does often serve me well, even if it has to cry out multiple times with the same request before corrective action is taken.

Q4 will have the usual engineering, finance and friendships targets. I have relatively fewer plans for the period (going into Q3 I knew that IJCAI was a thing). I might need to consider and decide if there is anything additional I should pick up.

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