2012 in review

The year 2012 was pretty big for me. I felt like I should summarize what I’ve been through for the last months, so here it is.

Starting with the academic part of my life, I spent a lot of time working on my Master thesis. It was, undoubtedly, the most stressful and challenging thing I’ve ever done. I wasn’t expecting the experience to have so many moments of desperation, or being as difficult as it was. I think that most negative feelings during that time came from the fact that I am a perfectionist and I cannot stand being stuck on a problem. For me, challenges are meant to be solved, and scientific research might very likely throw you into a period of stagnation that I just wasn’t used to. It got so bad that it had an impact on my health, although that has been overcome.

Thankfully, I had lots of support. In my research, my supervisors were amazing and helped me far beyond my expectations. My girlfriend was essential and I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have done it without her everyday support, as well as helping me put things into perspective. My family helped me in any way they could, allowing me to focus on my work and not having to worry about other things, and my friends also had a very important role by allowing me to sometimes forget about work and just enjoy the moment.

It ended up well, though. I was really proud of the thesis, the defense went extremely well, and I achieved a perfect score which stunned me (and still does). Now I have 3 more years to finish my PhD, which will be a continuation of theme of my MSc thesis, Evolutionary Robotics.

One of the nice things about research is that you get to travel. This year I went to 2 international conferences: one in Montpellier, France, and one in San Diego, USA. These are awesome ways not only to meet interesting people in your line of research, get to see what the current state of the art is, but also to do some sightseeing if you are into traveling. I also had the opportunity to take my girlfriend along to the USA trip and visit New York, which was amazing 🙂

One of last year’s “new year’s resolutions” was that I would start going to the gym, and I kept that promise. Starting in January, I signed up for a local gym and have been working out an average of 1 session per week. I would like to be able to go more often, but there are some weeks where I can’t allocate a full morning to go. I was in a really bad shape before, but this year I’ve already participated in 2 mini-marathons of 5 km and 8 km. Not a bad start for someone who has always been terrible at sports. Maybe next year I’ll be fit enough to try a half-marathon!

I also started reading (much) more. I have never dedicated much time to reading, partly because I didn’t have much free time, but I’ve found that you can turn that awful commute into a pleasant experience by getting some audiobooks. I managed to read/listen a whopping 27 books this year, just by turning useless time into reading time. If you’ve never tried it, you should. Some of the guys that read these books are brilliant at it, and the story comes alive inside your head. I read mostly Sci-Fi, but I also went through a couple of biographies, technology, and even philosophy books.

I also took up geocaching with my girlfriend on our free time, which proved to be an awesome way to know nice places. If you don’t know what it is, it’s basically a global treasure hunt. There are almost 2 million small containers, or “geocaches” hidden in (usually) cool locations worldwide. The owner of the cache lists its GPS coordinates and some information/hints online, and then other people can try to find them. Once you find one, you sign a physical logbook and log it online afterwards. Some bigger caches allow you to trade some small items with fellow geocachers. We’ve already found around 60 caches, hidden 3, and are planning on hiding a couple more.

Moving over to the more geeky side, I messed around with floppy disk drives and took my first steps in emulation. We ended up extending the floppy drive project on this year’s Codebits, which earned us the 4th place on the audience’s choice category! I gave a talk there entitled Evolution and Robots – How to create artificial brains for machines, give it a watch if you want to know WTF is my research about.

For 2013, my new year’s resolution will be to play guitar at least 30 minutes everyday. I’ve had my guitars for some years now, but I never had much time to practice until now. I also want to keep up the good habit of reading, so I’ve set the goal to an average of 2 books a month. Oh, and I can’t forget about the gym… I’ll try to improve my attendance rate.

That’s it, have a great year! 🙂