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Notes from España - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

Notes from España [May. 22nd, 2007|10:24 am]
Arvind Narayanan
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Smiling. The fever I mentioned in my last post persisted and strangely, left my lips cracked. So badly cracked it's painful to smile. Now, the inability to smile would normally not be a problem in Spain -- the smile-every-30-seconds culture is an American, and especially Southern thing. I imagine the average Spanish person smiles perhaps three times a day. They might even reveal teeth when someone makes an especially funny joke. C'mon people, smile -- it's good for your health! Moving from a smile to a no-smile country is a bit jarring, even if you know it's coming: when I finally reached my hotel after a Herculean journey, the guy at the front desk wouldn't even smile!

Anyway, while it normally wouldn't be a problem in Spain, you obviously have to smile all the time when you're at a conference and you're meeting someone new every 3 minutes. I hope people didn't think I'm rude or something :(

Español. Barcelona is a big metropolis, and yet almost no one speaks English. It isn't a big problem if you don't speak Spanish: for instance if you're trying to get to foobar, you can recursively approach people and go "donde esta el foobar, por favor?", scan their answer for derecha, izquierda, and proxima (or just note the hand signs) and finish up with muchas gracias. And of course, knowing a little French can be a big help; Spanish seems to borrow shamelessly from it. It can sometimes be a negative though, like the time I nearly asked someone "hablez vous Anglais?"

Food. The continental breakfast is the crappiest food anywhere, ever. To my nutrition-conscious eye it looks like this: lactose, fructose, sucrose, glucose, more lactose, a boatload of starch, sucrose, sucrose, milkfat, milkfat, milkfat, ham. Actually the ham is extra, so on the default menu there's nothing at all I'd voluntarily eat. Lunch at the conference is surprisingly good. I had no idea what most of the stuff is called, but it's still good.

For dinner yesterday we went to a seedy place that reminded me of the alley in Brokeback where Jake Gyllenhall goes to get some when he can't get any from what's-his-name. (Sure enough, at the bar/restaurant that we went to, there were a couple of men going at it in the restroom.) But that's not why I'm mentioning it: unfortunately, it also seemed like the kind of alley where you could get mugged any moment. Indeed, we ran into a couple of other conference attendees one of whom had had his bag stolen at that very place the previous night.

Isn't it sad that even in 2007, gay people have to go to seedy alleys to date?

Branding. No one remembers my name. It's not their fault -- no one can remember Indian names. I realized long ago that this would be a problem for me as an academic: your name is your brand. While scientists like to think of ourselves as rational, unbiased agents, in reality we're far from it, not because we're prejudiced but because we share the severe cognitive limitations of all humans. For instance, there's a strong correlation between alphabetical position of last name and tenure at top 10 universities in research communities where author order is alphabetical. No one has mental room for more than one author to associate with a paper.

So if people can't remember your name, they aren't going to be able to connect your face with your work. There are 3 things I've worked on with Vitaly in the last 2 or 3 years that have received a good bit of attention in the community: password cracking, database privacy, and netflix hacking. I met at least 3 people in the last couple of days who'd come across more than one of these papers but didn't realize it was the same person/people.

No one remembers my face either. I suppose I look like Generic Indian Guy. It doesn't help that I look different every year. It's funny the first few times when you walk up to someone and you're all like, "oh hi, Ted" (or whatever) and they come up totally blank. But it gets annoying after a while.

So I need a brand. Something that's not my name. I think I'm going to try and make my bandana that brand. I want to be remembered as the guy-with-the-bandana. That's easy, right? I'm going to put a bandana logo on all the pages on my academic web site and explore other ways to build this brand. Any ideas?

[User Picture]From: skthewimp
2007-05-22 09:44 am (UTC)
bandana sounds damn cool! except that i have one issue - in conferences where you are usually dressed formally, how does a bandana fit in? or are academics freakish enough that a bandana with a suit is perfectly acceptable?

and i'm thinking about the "n~" used so often in Spanish. i'm wondering if that has a one-to-one correspondence with the "chna" of the Indian alphabet - chna as in cha chha ja jha chna...
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2007-05-22 11:57 am (UTC)
Ha ha. If you dress formally at conferences you'll stick out like a sore thumb. Jeans and t-shirt is standard. Some people even turn up in shorts. There's one guy here in a sleeveless top. That takes the cake. Academics aren't freakish, we're the sane ones. Suits and ties are no more than devices for constricting blood supply to the brain.
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[User Picture]From: skthewimp
2007-05-22 12:27 pm (UTC)
oh ok! then it's fair. putits bandana da. works.

take a look at my LJ userpic. you see a bandana wrapped around my hand. had become my trademark of sorts. so pick a bandana in a strong color!

and strongly agree that suits and ties are no more than devices for constricting blood supply to the brain. utterly useless stuff.

i've seen some of my batchmates who are grad students in suits and ties adn they told me it was for conferences. so thought you need to puts formals for conferences
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From: eightbit
2007-05-22 10:09 am (UTC)
Man, Scott Aaronson really has the market cornered with branding _and_ lexicographical advantage.

And GT's group is basically Little India, so I've gotten quite good at working with Indian names. Perhaps the optimization/approx community would be more accommodating...

I would say "hi" at EC, but i didn't get my funding straight in time. enjoy!
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2007-05-23 04:11 pm (UTC)
Yeah. I already use a different first name socially. I'm still open to a total name change.
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[User Picture]From: logofmymind
2007-05-24 08:01 pm (UTC)
Yep. Name holds the key. I am lucky that at least my second name is easy to use.

On a lighter note: how about trying a traditional south Indian dress just to attract people.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2007-05-25 08:36 am (UTC)
"how about trying a traditional south Indian dress just to attract people."

Yeah right! There's a difference between being easy to remember and being an attention whore :)
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[User Picture]From: logofmymind
2007-05-25 12:25 pm (UTC)
Yes ofcourse. Was just kidding :)
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