Hong Kong Before A Storm: Day 2

July 18, 2019

A free morning in Hong Kong was an excellent opportunity to explore. I decided to spend time with the Penn Glee Club Band, who are consistently exploratory and adventurous. They also like brunch. We were therefore up early heading to the center of town for some food and a walk.

One of my favorite elements of this trip were the street markets we visited in each city. In Hong Kong we visited “the Ladies Market” infamous for under-the-counter counterfeit good. One Glee Clubber even bought a replica watch to match an expensive genuine article that had gone missing!

That evening the Penn Glee Club Band performed at a small but swanky bar “Fringe Underground” for a crowd of alums and locals,

Crazy in Love with the PGCB

One of the alums who had come to our concert the day before was incredibly impressed with our two sets. He therefore purchased bottles of Dom Pérignon for a post concert celebration.

Bright and early the next morning I walked through the Tsim Sha Tsui district known for its tailors, picking up made to measure shirts that I had ordered the day before. With 24 hour turnaround this was an impressive feat on the part of the tailors!

Next up: a ferry to Macau.

Hong Kong Before A Storm: Day 1

July 16, 2019

One interesting aspect of the trip was the opportunity to learn about the complex history of the regions we visited.

Visiting Hong Kong at this time was particularly eye-opening given the tension over the extradition bill and subsequent protests. I learned about the complicated Hong Kong identity, imbued with both a history of British colonization and norms of Chinese culture. While not quite a democracy, the people of Hong Kong reverse democratic values. Attempts by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to integrate Hong Kong into the mainland are often met by opposing mass movements.

However, my stay was more than just politics. One particular highlight of this leg was our visit to Diocesan Boy’s School. Their choir is world renowned for it’s superb musicianship. The Penn Pipers (my barbershop group) experienced this first hand. After performing a number for them, a few boys heard us whispering about another song:

“Should we sing Notre Dame?”

“Nah, too long.”

The boys overruled our decision: “We know that song!”

A small group of their singers were so eager that we gathered around for a seven minute medley of songs from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The small group quickly became large. Every boy in their choir opened up their phones and squinting at the tiny print, sightread our most difficult piece!

(Photo from the Glee Club Tour Blog)

That evening the Glee Club took to the water to see “A Symphony of Lights”. We watched the waterfront musical production as buildings around the city lit up in time with the music.

Two Glee Clubbers took the romantic scenery very seriously, and were too busy kissing to notice a seasick passenger receiving medical aid right by their side. Enough for my night, I went to sleep soon after.

The Cities That (Never?) Sleep: Shanghai

July 14, 2019

The University of Pennsylvania Glee Club Tour 2019: “The Cities That Never Sleep”

Destinations (according to the PRC overlords):

  • China, China, China

Destinations (otherwise):

  • Shanghai, China (The People’s Republic of China)
  • Hong Kong (SAR)
  • Macau (SAR)
  • Taipei, Taiwan (The Republic of China)
  • Tokyo, Japan

First leg: Air Canada Economy PHL–>YYZ–>PVG. Lovely break at the Maple Leaf Lounge in YYZ, but otherwise nothing notable.

I landed in Shanghai at around 6PM, hours earlier than the rest of the Glee Club. I therefore took the opportunity to get acquainted with my surroundings, walking in the vicinity of People’s Square.

I loved the mixed of small stalls, and skyscrapers that permeated my path. I bought a few bananas from a street vendor and wandered over to where a large crowd was gathering for paired dancing:

A few steps onward was line dancing:

and a little further, karaoke:

Our hostel was located along a river, with lovely views in the evening and was a great starting out point for adventures.

Two days of adventures in Shanghai included visiting some of the famous markets, gardens, and of course performances.

Our major performance in the city was a collaborative concert with the women of the Shanghai Conservatorium of Music. (Photos Courtesy of the Penn Glee Club Tour Blog https://penngleetour.tumblr.com)

Our China leg also included a day trip to Suzhou, known by many as the “Venice of the East”. It’s a beautiful ‘small town’ of ten million people and many canals.

The biggest tourist attraction in Suzhou is the heavily trafficked Humble Administrator’s Garden. Where once it may have been a peaceful spot to relax, not so much anymore.

I also spent half a day in Shanghai sightseeing with Christian, a freshman Bass in the Glee Club. While known for his misadventures, he’s a charming and incredibly personable individual who could make conversation with a stone wall.

One notable feature of all the cities we visited was the incredible number of luxury goods shops. I saw enough Louis Vuitton and Rolex to last a lifetime.

One such encounter was an evening dinner treat when the Glee Club was taken to a fancy Peking Duck restaurant by the family of one of our members. While I couldn’t partake of the meal, it took place inside one of many vaulted malls, filled top-full of high end and expensive fashion.

The High End Mall

Soon our time in Shanghai was over, and it was off to Hong Kong.

Revival.

I’ve decided to start posting small personal updates here again, largely because I’m sick of having my data toyed around with by the tech giants. No more social media buttons either.

Papers and Pipers

June 20, 2016

The week of February 14 was one of the hardest weeks I’ve had. It was both physically and mentally exhausting with a good dose of stress. Apparently this happens in academia but I sure hope to avoid it as much as possible. That week contained three events of significance. An international flight to Barbados, the Glee Club Spring Show, and the USENIX security deadline. Of these, by far the most important was the deadline.

USENIX security is the top publishing venue in my field (Applied Cryptography and Security) and my group had three papers to submit. Two of the three were very high profile and collaborative, and the one remaining a product of our group alone. They were also not quite ready to be published. The one which was eventually accepted “DROWN: Breaking TLS using SSLv2” describes a method by which a malicious person could read internet communications that were supposedly encrypted, numbering up to 29% of all HTTPS connections. excitingly enough our work was even reported in the mainstream media, but this didn’t alleviate the amount of work needed to get it ready for publication.

Another one of the publications with which I was involved was “A Systematic Analysis of the Juniper Dual EC Incident” that examines how attempts to backdoor the security capabilities of a class of corporate network devices backfired and allowed a malicious entity to commandeer it for themselves. Again our research was reported in the media much to my excitement. Both papers had policy implications as decisions made for policy reasons impacted the development of the above technologies and lead both directly and indirectly to the vulnerabilities. My lab and I consider this to be a fruitful research direction and hope to publish more papers in related areas.

These two and the other paper ensured my days started early, and even without rehearsals, would have ended late. I was in the lab every day by 9.30AM, and left at around 6.30PM for rehearsal. Rehearsals were enjoyable but I couldn’t fully commit myself knowing there was work to be done. I made sure I was present for the bare minimum needed to perform and left most nights at 10PM to get back to the lab to stay there until 3 or 4AM when Nadia, Luke, Josh Fried (a new undergraduate lab-mate) and I physically couldn’t stay productive. While the work environment was fun with Phillip Glass or Europop in the background, it was tough to focus and be productive for so many hours a day. Definitely not the optimal way for me to produce high quality work consistently.

The show later in the week was immensely enjoyable, despite the publication pressure. I featured as one of three depressed clowns in a failing circus, and had a few starring moments. The Penn Pipers (the Glee Club barbershop and do-wop barbershop subset) also had two numbers in the show and I had a few more moments there. Overall, the best part of the show was the musicality that our new director Joshua Glassman brought to our ensemble. This being our first spring show with him presented many challenges, and his busy schedule as a freelance musician all put pressures on everyone, but gladly, it all came together.

Finally, there was my flight to Barbados for a conference, scheduled to depart 6AM Sunday morning from JFK airport, NYC. Unfortunately, the final performance of the Glee Club show was scheduled for less than 12 hours prior, and so immediately following the closing of the curtains, I grabbed by bag, sprinted to a cab and caught the train to NYC…

Dvořák Symphony No. 9

June 16, 2016

The journey to Croatia was somewhat more eventful than I’d have hoped. First a train to Newark, then a flight to Toronto. While there I spent my layover in the lounge and attempted to make myself some soup, only spilling the boiling water over my hands and shattering a bowl. Not an ideal start. As I was cleaning up, my backpack split along the seams, spilling my clothes and books onto the floor. After I cleaned up from that I relaxed on an Air Canada flight to Heathrow, albeit with a throbbing sensation in my left hand. My flight was unfortunately a little delayed and that left me with a forty-five minute sprint to transfer in Heathrow and dash through the terminals to catch my flight to Split, Croatia, just as the gate was closing.

When I landed in Croatia, a bus was waiting for me and a few other cryptographers to go Šibenik, a small resort town on the coast where I would be partaking in a cryptography summer school. On the bus I met a few students from Royal Holloway, University of London, Ben, Lydia and Torben who were all lovely. Once there I almost collapsed in exhaustion, barely managing to say hi to Luke before crashing for a few hours.

The next day was fairly unremarkable, with some introductory talks given, and more sneaking out on my part to try and recover from minor illness and some jetlag. It was day two of the program that really shined. Luke introduced me to Henry, a very talented and outspoken student of djb and Tanja Lange’s. He further introduced us to a few friends of his including Isis, another person I enjoyed spending time with alongside the brits.  djb (Dan Berstein) and Tanja are collaborators of ours who do a lot of excellent work in cryptography and thus it was also quite exciting to meet the two of them. Tanja in particular had been delivering kosher, vegan, gummy candies to the lab via Nadia and thus needed much thanks for it.

A few things were really notable at the conference. One was different social circles that people mixed in. Some people definitely aligned themselves more with cypherpunk culture while others maintained more academic detachment. There were plenty of people with radical political views, mostly close to the anarchical and left leaning sides of the spectrum, and it was an interesting chance to hear their views. On a more academic side, the european’s were much more heavily focused on symmetric encryption (where you meet ahead of time to exchange a password) as opposed to our work which focused more on asymmetric (where you do some fancy maths to share something privately).

My last day in Croatia was spent on a tour of Kornati national park, composed of a series of rocky islands that we reached over the course of a three hour boat ride. It was a really nice chance to unwind and spend more time getting to know colleagues in a social situation. I read on the beach, dipped in the water, ate ice cream and climbed to the top of a hill along with friends and lab-mates. Altogether a great day.

 


At 2.50AM I was off on my way home. This trip wasn’t entirely pleasant either. I arrived hours too early at Split airport, where I called Celeste (more on her at a later point) to chat for thirty minutes while I attempted to stay awake for check-in. A short flight later I was at Zagreb airport with six hours to kill; no lounge, no seating and no check in. A five hour flight stopped in an unnamed country, another thirteen hours to Melbourne, twenty-six minutes from the tarmac through customs and border control and I was on a mad dash home before it got dark on Friday night. I only just made it.

And Back Again…

June 15, 2016

A year and six months later I decided I had too many stories to stop there. Given the wealth of experiences I’ve missed, my aim is to attempt to slowly fill in the missing days in no particular order.

May 18th 2016, I and the glee club departed for what would be my third tour with the group. This was to be my last with the group of people with whom I had joined the glee club and it was thus bittersweet. Additionally, I was coming to realize that tour placed a lot of pressure on me PhD wise and thus I was planning on re-evaluating my ability to go the next year.

Following a very late meeting with Nadia that morning, I arrived home just past midnight, packed my bags and was able to gain around two hours of sleep before awaking for a trip to Philadelphia International Airport. All suited up, this was the glee club’s first year in formal travel wear. While there were some grumbles, I quite enjoyed looking good for my flight. The first leg was to Atlanta, where we would transit on our way to Nashville, and subsequently on our way to every other destination. Needless to say, I don’t feel the need to visit that airport ever again.

Arriving in Nashville marked my first experience of the American South. While the hostel felt no different from a hostel anywhere else, the street outside betrayed a unique culture. While I can’t generalize beyond the touristy areas I visited, my feeling was that I was in a completely different country to the one I had spent the last few years in. Stores selling boots, southern BBQ joints, and life country music filled the footpaths.

summer2016 (1 of 148)

The start of the afternoon was spent recovering on our sleep debt from that day, however soon enough we were on our way for some sightseeing. First up: the Tennessee State House.

Tennessee Statehouse

The interior was quite beautifully designed with large marble columns framing wide open corridors that echoed with our footsteps. We performed briefly for our tour guide and while our music selection was questionable (a South African Folk Song, Bawo Tixo Somandla), the tone was sonorous.

The next day, I and a few others went to explore Vanderbilt University and the surroundings. One very notable structure there was a full sized replica of the Parthenon of Athens. While the exterior was impressive, elements of the interior were as amusing as they were impressive. A reconstruction of a statue of Athena stood prominently inside, and while the scale was large, the colors were somewhat garish. Furthermore during construction, funding had run out and thus the columns were not marble but concrete.

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Walking along the path, going into second hand bookshops, we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. We came upon an artisan coffee shop and spent a good half hour inside as the owner explained to us many of life’s mysteries and how coffee was a universal force that contained the essence of all nature, captured in the water, condensed from the seas and made from atoms from inside stars.

Evenings in Nashville were spent on Broadway, a street with many bars and live music out of every corner. The greatest appeal for me however, lay in Harmony Hall, the headquarters of the Barbershop Harmony Society (formerly SPEBSQUSA, the Society for the Promotion and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America). There I and the Penn Pipers were treated to both a tour, an a brief lesson singing barbershop ‘tags’. While we were disappointed that a lack of funding had caused the organization to condense its plans for a museum, both Dan Carsello and I enjoyed thoroughly being in the home of the art that we so love.

My last day in Nashville was a Shabbat and thus spent in bed with The Wheel of Time, a book series that I was and am thoroughly enjoying. A 14-book, 12-thousand page high fantasy epic of Rand Al’Thor’s fight against the Shadow Reborn.

New Orleans was hot and humid. A city of jazz and blues, a city of death and rebirth. I keeping with themes of death and rebirth, the glee club went on a ghost tour of New Orleans. Not quite my style but a gentle introduction to the city nonetheless. Our time in New Orleans was punctuated by burst of singing, a beautiful hostel with a questionable library, “tacos and beer”, and for me, plenty of time with my good friend Evan Weinstein.

One sight I visited with Evan that I thoroughly enjoyed was the National WWII Museum, formerly the D-Day Museum. The exhibits were spectacularly put together and gave me insight into the progression of the war in both the European and Pacific fronts. I came away both enriched in knowledge and with a sense for what makes the USA worth fighting for. In the photos below, one I’d draw attention to is the swastika, captured by the Americans on the capture of Italy and defaced with the names of the capturing troops.

The highlight of New Orleans (and of the entire trip) was for me, an encounter with a travelling performer in a caravan. While I can’t recall her name, I can recall the stunning ambience created by her performance from a piano in the corner of her small abode. She sang wistfully songs that connected to emotions the bystanders asked her to portray and served drinks from her diminutive bar mounted on the side.

Following New Orleans, and as an interlude to our regular tour activities came a weekend retreat in Key West, Miami. A beach side town featuring the southernmost point, the southernmost restaurant, the southernmost house, the southernmost artist… well you get the idea…. of the continental United States. Key West was heavily populated by chickens almost as much as people and many clustered around the start of Route 1 USA where a few of us took photos.

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Much of our time was spent exploring the town, but the highlight for most glee clubbers, was the ocean cruise. A few hours on a boat with an open bar and a chance to sing for bridesmaids on a hen’s night more than excited a few of our members.

Shabbat was again spent on the adventures of Rand Al’Thor, before leaving subsequently for Miami Beach. Our final concert, in Miami, took place outside on a beautiful day, in a park along the ocean, and gave the seniors and I a chance to reminisce over our years together. It wasn’t long until the sombre mood wore off and we exploring again the boulevards of the city. I again spent much of my time with Evan, sneaking into fancy hotels, eating ice-cream and getting up to general mischief on foot.


All of a sudden tour was over, and I was back at Penn, moving all my items from my old room on the first floor of McIlhenny, Riepe (more on that later), to the third floor of Warwick in preparation for spending a year on ISP. ISP is the Integrated Studies Program, an interdisciplinary residential and curricular program for undergraduate students at Penn, and for 2016 I was to be one of the incoming students many mentors. After moving my stuff, I spent a few days more in the lab, before once again jetsetting. This time for Croatia.

 

In Which Intensity Takes On A New Meaning

December 7, 2014

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As a special surprise for our new week, Nadia released a new crypto homework. Implementing the Coppersmith partial information attack using lattices (discrete additive subgroups of $\mathbb{R}^n$ (better not to ask)). While the actual code wasn’t going to be long, taking the time to understand the material would detract from time spent on our projects, and other assignments.

Machine learning lectures had lessened in intensity and increased in interest. However, with the project deadlines looming, every spare waking moment was dedicated to improving our score. The gist of it was given the text of advertisements, predict house prices for a bunch of homes being sold.

To add to the intensity, the algorithms final was two weeks away and we were still learning new material! More than that I had a lot of doctors appointments scheduled that were taking valuable time away.

On the rehearsal side of things, that night was long. First was a few hours of Glee Club and then a few of Choral Society. The intensity was increased due to two upcoming gigs for Glee, an hour long holiday concert at Penn and then a high profile one elsewhere. The Choral Society concert was also that week and so three rehearsals and the show were scheduled. More than that, the Penn Pipers had new repertoire for us to learn for both Glee Gigs and two of our own over the weekend.

After a really long day, and a night of rehearsal, project work took me till about 3AM. After that I couldn’t work anymore and fell asleep at my desk.

 

In Which The House Remains Quiet

The next morning everyone woke up really late. I came downstairs at around eleven for breakfast with Sarah, Moe and Ariella while everyone else remained asleep. Breakfast was delicious bagels with lox and cream cheese.  Eventually (almost) everyone in the house woke up, including Ben, who wanted to make a decent start on getting hope. Unfortunately for him Lily was still asleep.

After a while of chilling in the lounge, a bedraggled Lily came down the stairs. The majority of the words out of her mouth seemed to involve the word ‘coffee’. However, her collapsed state on the couch prevented her from making moves to rectify her caffeine deficiency. Eventually she recovered, and Ben inquired as to when they would be leaving. Lily and I caught each others eyes for a moment, from which I understood that the leaving wouldn’t be happening any time soon. Lily played on ‘Carlotta’, her ukuleke for a while, while Dani, Ben and I sat on the couch. Soon Dani left for coffee with a friend and wasn’t seen till much later.

The rest of the afternoon was spent between my algorithms textbook and in conversation with Moe and Lily alternately. As the day wore on, Ben became increasingly impatient to get home and do important things, and Lily gave us more and more exasperated looks as her strategies to delay him started to wear out. Just before Shabbat came out, Ben gave one final push and despite her efforts to stay longer, Lily was defeated.

With the two Gamse’s gone, the house was notably quieter. After Shabbat came out, we ordered Chinese take-away food (or ‘take-out’ as they call it here) and then afterwards I sat down to work again. The break was fairly productive but in my mind, should’ve been much longer.

The next day was the last of the break, and I woke up late for the final time. Ate breakfast, read some more, and soon it was time to leave. I thanked Sarah and Bob for their hospitality and hopped in the back for our ride back to Philly. Thankfully there was no rehearsal that evening, so after a bit more work and some food, I tucked myself into bed, attempting to get ready for what would be a really intense week.

In Which I Have A Really Wonderful Evening

December 4, 2014

I slept in late the next day after working hard the previous night. When I woke up I tackled another chapter of my algorithms textbook but was soon fast asleep again. Around lunchtime I woke up, had a bite to eat, and then started helping Sarah prepare for the evening’s meal. My primary task was to plate up dessert. I actually had quite an enjoyable time doing so and managed to set out the food in a most acceptable manner. Unfortunately I neglected to take pictures, but you can imagine cookies of different colours fanned out on a multi-layered platter. A little later in the afternoon Moe and Ariella arrived back from a black Friday shopping trip. Ariella had been successful in the purchase of a cut price pair of headphone, but the two of them were otherwise unencumbered.

After another hour or so of prep, it was time to get ready, so I showered and cleaned up my mess a little. Just before I had time to get into nicer clothes, the doorbell rang. Ben and Lily Gamse, Ariella’s step-cousins had arrived. I was soon introduced to them by Dani, and instantly struck it off with the two of them. Lily immediately came off as very jovial and on the bouncier side of things, very talkative and keen to meet people. Her brother Ben was slightly more reserved and a little older, but still an absolute pleasure to talk to. Seeing the two of them together and being so close made me miss my brothers Adi and Raph a lot, and caused me to look forward to a few weeks time when I would be home with them again for a few weeks. Shabbat came in soon, along with a slew of other guests, notably another young adult cousin Sarah, who was studying political science up in Vermont and Bob’s son Connor who I didn’t have the chance to get to know so well.

Dinner was really fantastic. Delicious food. Probably amongst the top two meals I had eaten since leaving home. Not only that, but having a crowd of friendly twenty-somethings up my end of the table meant I had a really great time talking to them. ‘King’ David, Ariella’s brother was in a great mood too, and all in all it seemed like we were having a better time than most of the adults. After a few hours, dinner died down a little and a few of us when over to the couches to chat for a while. Once most of the guests had left, Lily and Ben (who were staying the night), and Dani, decided to go to a bar to meet with a friend of hers. Predictably Moe, Ariella and I stayed home. For the next hour and a half, I tried to read more of my textbook, actually getting through a chunk.

At around midnight, Dani, Ben and Lily returned home. Every came downstairs again for a snack and noticed Sarah asleep next to Felafel and Peppers, their two Beagles. Apparently the temptation of a nap with the beloved dogs was a little too much! Similarly, Bob was asleep on a nearby couch. After most everyone headed to bed, Lily and I stayed up to chat for another hour and a bit, before both of us finally retired. I was enthused to have had such a wonderful evening and met so many people. I also really appreciated I had somewhere to go for thanksgiving with people who treated me as part of the family.