Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Road to Monaco

The Monte Carlo Casino
Finally, I visited Monaco! It was very similar to my trip to Andorra in 2015. When I visited Barcelona for an EMJD-DC Spring Event, I had an extra day. So I took a bus to Andorra and spent a whole day there before returning to Andorra. This time I had a free day after the conference. I also found a cheap return flight ticket (50 Euro Vueling) to Nice from Barcelona. From the Nice airport, you can get a bus (no 110) to Monaco. Purchase the tickets at the ticket office as the bus driver does not sell the tickets.  A return trip to Monaco costs 33 Euro. One way costs 22 Euro. So I purchased a return ticket.

Once you have your bus ticket, proceed to catch the bus at the bus terminal #3 right outside the airport. The bus is hourly. There is also a bus that goes to Menton with the same number (no 110). At least during our trip, two buses left at the same time, ours with the destination to Monaco, and the other to Menton (a city in French Riviera that comes right after Monaco). Make sure to get on the right bus. The bus drivers speak good English, and you will be fine.

Monaco is the smallest UN member nation since Vatican is not a UN member state. Before the journey started, the bus driver proceeded to ask from each of us where are we going. By doing so, he made sure that no one missed their bus stop. That is a pretty smart thing to do. I got down at the Monte Carlo casino with many others. The bus goes until the Monte Carlo beach. There was a tourist information desk in a short walking distance from the bus stop. There was a hop-on-hop-off bus. However, I did not take that and proceeded to walk across the entire country. Thanks to its small size, I managed to create a record of my own to have walked across a country for the first time! :D I discourage anyone from taking the hop-on-hop-off bus. It goes in parallel with the coastal line and does not even go to the Jardim Exotica (7 Euro entry fee). I easily walked to more places than what the bus covers. Also, why waste money on something useless? Monaco (combined with its towns such as Monte Carlo and Monaco Ville is entirely walkable). It also has a complete transport network of buses consisting of public buses.
Monaco is a rich country. A small 19 sq meter studio apartment costs 2,500 Euro per month as rent, excluding the utilities, as I found from an apartment agent advertisement in Monte Carlo. I paid 500 Euro for a studio of the same size inclusive of all the costs in Lisboa. I know people earn in Monaco much more than in Portugal, while not having to pay taxes. I had a good meal (bread, starters, entry, main dish, and dish), a menu option for 29 Euro (34 Euro including the glass of wine). It was a very crowded simple restaurant. Must be one of those on the cheaper side of the price spectrum as far as Monaco is concerned, I guess. I also found other restaurants that are more expensive.

There were several casinos including the Monte Carlo Casino and Cafe Paris Casino near the bus stop. Several shops selling luxury brands, and there was also a very nicely illuminated shopping mall with many such stores, giving it a golden feeling. As far as I noticed they did not have our cheap shops such as Zara and H&M. There was also a nice park with walking trails and a Japanese garden. I paid a visit to both. I avoided the Jardim Exotica as its entrance is not free. I visited the cathedral. Ok, if you are still reading the blog post, by now you would have identified that Monaco is not just casinos and shopping malls.

I walked across the beach until the end. I was thinking - where to get the bus now?! Luckily I found the bus stop of Monte Carlo Beach easily as I step out of the beach, completing my long walk. So did not have to spend time trying to locate it, or returning to the stop I arrived at. While waiting for the bus, a very old lady (in her 80s) came to me and asked me something in French. I told her that I did not understand. She immediately switched to English and asked me to tell her when the bus number 6 arrives. We immediately proceeded into a long conversation. When I asked her how many languages she can speak, she proudly answered: "oh, many." She happily recalled her life with three passports (born in France, 1 km from the bus stop, and having a husband with a Switzerland mother and a Switzerland passport - and thus having passports from Monaco, France, and Switzerland). Since she lives in Monaco, she has a Monaco passport and does not need to pay taxes. "That's the good thing about this," she claimed.

She also asked about what I am doing in Portugal. When I said I am studying, she proceeded to ask my age, and gave a look with a face, "Dude, that is too old of age to study. Did you fail your school or something?" lol. I tried to explain to her what is a Ph.D. I am pretty confident she knows what that is, given her exposure to the world (She has traveled as far as Hong Kong and her husband worked as a hotelier). But probably due to her difficulties in hearing, she did not quite catch what I said. Before I tried to explain her, the bus number 6 arrived. I stopped the bus for her and told her her bus is here. She thanked and greeted me good luck and proceeded to board the bus. I like nice people. They give you good memories that are hard to forget.

I returned to Nice to catch the last flight to return to Barcelona. I also saw the same two couple (looked like a young couple with the lady's parents) that came with me on the bus from Nice to Monaco. Previously on the bus, we shared a brief smile. The young lady came to me and asked something in Spanish, "blablabla, Moh-nuh-koh?" I understood she was asking something about Monaco. But not sure what is that she is asking about. I smiled and replied, "Sorry, I do not understand." I hate to say that. But unfortunately, I am not great at picking up with natural languages. :( She replied, "Monaco - good?" while giving a thumbs-up gesture. I said, "ah, yes, yes, good." giving back a thumbs-up, and asked her back, "And you? How was it?" She replied, "Yes, good! good!!" with a big smile. We all boarded the flight. I am happy to know that it is not just me doing this crazy travel of a same day return flight to Nice from Barcelona just to go to Monaco and return on the same day. There were 5 of us, including the young and old couple. I am not alone in this world. We are all similar in our uniqueness.

Airport Stories

The beautiful French Riviera (Côte d'Azur)
I am waiting for the flight to return to Lisboa in the Barcelona airport. Yesterday was a crazy day. First time in my life I had a return flight on the same day, from/to Barcelona and Nice. And also a non-stop walk across Monaco, stopping only for lunch. The French Rivera is a beautiful region. I enjoyed the view from the bus as it passes by with the view of mountains covered by clouds and glimpses of the Mediterranean sea with yachts. Barcelona airport does not seem to have free wifi in the airside. At least where I am sitting, has not even a slight trace of public wifi. I write this blog post sitting on the seats on gEdit, saving it to post when I return to the civilization where I have the Internet access.

The Jeju Algorithm

I like to travel with minimal or random plans. Traveling to Jeju was remarkable. But it did give some challenges in unplanned random moves, due to the language barrier. Google maps were showing in Korean. It is easy to read sentences in foreign languages as long as the language is written in a script that you can read (such as a Latin script). But that is not the case with Korean.

The locals in Jeju were amicable and came towards to help us with directions even without we asking. But unfortunately, most of them were able to speak only Korean. Then, there are information screens in every other bus stop. Though they are supposed to work in many languages including Korean, English, and Chinese, the touch screen was not working correctly, and it was nearly impossible to change the language in many of those machines. Buses had the information in English, such as the next stop, and the stop after that.

We had to go to a place in the main street. We know that it is a straight line. But several buses were going on the road along the direction. We decided to get on a random bus. We planned to stay on the bus as long as it goes straight. But unfortunately, at the next stop, it turned to a side road in the right. We got down and returned to the main street, and boarded another bus in the next stop. This bus also turned left after two stops. Finally, we asked a foreigner. He did not know the location that we are talking about. But when I told him that we need to go in a straight line, it is probably number 105 (not the actual number he mentioned. I just forgot what he said at this time. So let's assume that is 105 for the sake of this blog post). He warned us that he is not so sure. Then we were waiting. Another bus came. But not number 105. We decided to continue our Jeju algorithm. Our Jeju algorithm works with limited knowledge and certain assumptions. The path is definitely in a straight line, and there is at least one bus that reaches the destination. There is, of course, no direct bus between our origin and destination. We boarded this bus though it is not number 105. Luckily, the bus indeed took us to the destination. Not bad. We reached the destination by using three buses. Ideally, we should have used only two buses. But as our algorithm is not optimized, we ended up with three buses. :D Our return trip was tuned with the knowledge gained, and we returned merely with just one transit (using two buses).

Though this was not, of course, an optimal experience (we wasted some time and money for the bus fare for each leg of our trip). But it did leave us with some exciting memory to talk about for the years to come. :D

How to time-travel?

Time traveling is an exciting concept that has been portrayed in several fiction, literature, and movies. While I am not sure about its feasibility, at least we can simulate the feeling. :D

Let's try, step by step, to travel back in time.

The first step, pick a time and location that you like to time travel. It should be a location that you have been in the past time. It should have given you strong memories. It does not have to be happy memories. Not all the sad memories are necessarily terrible.

Have you decided a place and a time? I have for myself, chosen a few pairs of locations and years:  2017 in Louvain-la-Neuve, 2016 in Atlanta, 2015 in Rijeka, 2013 in Kista, 1987 until 2012 several parts of Colombo, and 2012 in New Delhi.

Now for this to work without causing confusion to you, you should not have visited the same places in between. Otherwise, the memories collide. :D For example, I haven't visited Rijeka after 2015 and Kista after 2013.

Also not all the places will take you back in time giving a time-traveling atmosphere. I was in Stockholm for the 2nd part of my EMDC MSc program in 2013. But I returned to Portugal for my thesis in 2014. However, it did not feel the same anymore. My friends did not return to Portugal with me. So make sure to bring the same people with you when you plan your time traveling. Might be a good idea to wear the same clothes too, to bring back the exact moment. :P

Next, are you back in your destination [location, time], such as [Rijeka, 2015]? Great. Make sure to go to the same restaurants, beaches, and universities that you frequented. Use the same mode of transport. If possible, eliminate anything new. Like, if you never owned a laptop in 2015, don't bring a laptop with you. :D

Great! Music plays a huge role in our memory. Listen to some songs or watch some music videos of the time. It works best if you did not listen to these songs in between. Otherwise, the original memories you allocated to the song might have faded away.

I have picked the below song, which was always playing in Rijeka wherever I went in 2015. I also did not listen to this song afterward. So it is my song of 2015 summer in Rijeka. :P

It is also important to create memories in the first place, to be able to recall them. Making memories is not easy. We don't remember every minor detail of our daily life. But we do remember when we do something remarkable or different. As a thought experiment, during my recent visit to Barcelona, I had Udon at the nearest restaurent for all 3 dinners. I am sure I will remember this forever. :D

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Software-Defined Data Services: Interoperable and Network-Aware Big Data Executions

Today I presented my work titled "Software-Defined Data Services: Interoperable and Network-Aware Big Data Executions" at the Fifth International Conference on Software Defined Systems (SDS), in UPC Barcelona. This is my third time in Barcelona. However, this is the first time I am on my own here without my friends, as my previous visits were for the EMDC and EMJD-DC events in 2013 and 2015. This is my 4th time attending an SDS conference consecutively. 

I have attended the SDS'17 (Valencia, Spain), SDS'16 (Berlin, Germany), and SDS'15 (Tempe, AZ, USA) before. I have only missed the first installment of SDS (SDS'14), as I was doing my MSc those days, and my topic was not related to SDS. SDS started as a workshop co-located with IC2E in 2014, and promoted as a symposium in 2016. It graduated as a conference on its own in 2017.

Abstract: Services that access or process a large volume of data are known as data services. Big data frameworks consist of diverse storage media and heterogeneous data formats. Through their service-based approach, data services offer a standardized execution model to big data frameworks. Software-Defined Networking (SDN) increases the programmability of the network, by unifying the control plane centrally, away from the distributed data plane devices. In this paper, we present Software-Defined Data Services (SDDS), extending the data services with the SDN paradigm. SDDS consists of two aspects. First, it models the big data executions as data services or big services composed of several data services. Then, it orchestrates the services centrally in an interoperable manner, by logically separating the executions from the storage. We present the design of an SDDS orchestration framework for network-aware big data executions in data centers. We then evaluate the performance of SDDS through microbenchmarks on a prototype implementation. By extending SDN beyond data centers, we can deploy SDDS in broader execution environments.

This paper received the Best Paper Award at the SDS 2018!

Please read more about this news at the INESC-ID web site.