Bilbao

Bilbao is a perfect place to visit: it has Guggenheim, amazing food and wine and charming running paths. The Guggenheim collection is shaping up to be pretty great, I was super impressed by their Anselm Kiefer collection as well as ‘The Matter of Time’ by Richard Serra. They also have one of Louise Bourgeois’ spiders in front. And then there is the food thing: Azurmendi by Eneko Atxa is not just expertly created menu based on local Basque cuisine – it’s also their amazing wine collection and the extremely original presentation – the perfect experience. And if you don’t want to eat super fancy – any random bar will have pintxos, which is the best street food ever invented.

Machine Learning for Many-Body Physics @ KITP

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Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics organises wonderful few-weeks-long workshops throughout the year, and I recently attended one on machine learning in many-body physics. The general idea of these workshops is that one gets an office to work in, there is only one or two talks a day and the participants get to interact in the informal, but super stimulating atmosphere. Also, you get an incredible ocean view! If this sounds good, you should check out KITP webpage to see if there is a workshop interesting for you (you can also propose a new one).

In this post I would like to round up a few things that I found most interesting and useful.

You can find the full list of talks here. I recommend watching Aleksander Kubica, Marin Bukov and Evert van Nieuwenburg, they all do very cool stuff.

Overall it seems to me that while there was no one mindblowing result that changed how we think about physics, there has been tremendous amount of progress. The one place where ml methods seem to provide most advantage is the processing and analysis of experimental data, but the many-body state ansatzes, error correction improvements, and phase transitions analyses definitely offer very cool insights.

2018 in books

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Photo by Janko Ferlic

This year I paid extra attention to selecting female authors since I realised that on my previous reading lists women make barely 30%. And I indeed found some amazing authors.

Top 5 books I read this year (including all genres):

Naomi Alderman: The Power – amazing must-read thought experiment about power and inequality. I wrote about it here.
N. K. Jemisin: The Fifth Season – breathtaking incredibly imaginative fantasy dealing with issues in freedom and inequality in most carefully constructed world I read in a long time. No wonder she won 3 Hugos in a row!
Ronan Farrow: War on Peace – Ronan writing with his staple charming witty style about his years in US foreign service. He is not blind towards recent failures of US foreign policy – great fun and informative read.
Madeline Miller: Circe – re-imagine Greek legends you know from school but told from the perspective of women not men. Ever wondered why is it that Circe or Medea have horrible reputations for torturing men?
Masha Gessen: The Future is History – how USSR became Russia with its current president told from the point of view of few families Masha interviewed plus larger political context. Incredibly thorough and fascinating read.

In Sci-fi/Fantasy I further recommend Becky Chambers for heartwarming and entertaining, Ann Leckie for genius and AI-chilling, and Nnedi Okorafor for super innovative reads. Also Scalzi new book, The Consuming Fire, was out this year and I loved it as much as all his other books. But, man, if you’d taken more than 2 weeks to write it, it could have been even better!!

In non-fiction, Maya Angelou memoir is heart-breaking and amazing, Madeleine Albright‘s Fascism puts current moment in perspective, and Angela Saini‘s Inferior should be compulsory reading for everyone alive.

From the classics I should have read a long time ago: Margaret Atwood (Handmaid’s Tale), Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner), and Jane Austen (Emma) were all predictably amazing. And then I spiced the year up with couple of Terry Pratchetts for the days when I couldn’t take anything else because how horrible the news was. You can check out my complete reading list here.

Overall, I couldn’t be happier with this year readings, almost all of the books I read (even though there was not space to mention all of them here) were amazing! That is, except Dark Matter by Blake Crouch which is sexist, lame, boring and I hated every single page of it. This comes with the disclaimer that I actually know about quantum mechanics, so that probably made it worse.

A Book That Everyone Should Read: Angie Thomas

It’s about Seven. Sekani. Kenya. DeVante. It’s also about Oscar. Aiyana. Trayvon. Rekia. Michael. Eric. Tamir. John. Ezell. Sandra. Freddie. Alton. Philando. It’s also about that little boy in 1955 who nobody recognized at first – Emmett.

The messed-up part? There are so many more.

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Photo by 3Motional Studio on Pexels.com

For a long time I couldn’t bring myself to start reading Angie Thomas’ timely masterpiece The Hate U Give. Having read quite a bit about police violence in US and seen the tape of the horrifying shooting of Philando Castile, I knew I was going to cry throughout the book. Even though the book is conceptually very different it reminded me of Malala Yousafzai autobiography in the tone of horrible things seen and described through the eyes of a young girl. This incredibly powerful story of Starr whose friend gets shot by police officer is both eye-opening and heart wrenching and is most definitely far from one-sided. It is an acute portrait of ugliness of racism and violence that at the same time manages to be thoughtful and implicit letting the reader understand the bigger picture through Starr’s experiences. Angie Thomas is Harper Lee of our time and this book is an absolute must read for everybody.