Sunday, July 29, 2007


The weather outside today isn't cooperating so I'm stuck inside today banging on the qwerty and doing laundry. Later this week I'll be banging on the drums. The Hoodoo Hounds are going into the studio. The pic above is one of my latest LaTeX-like obsessions: LilyPond. It's a music "engraver" as they say, not just a typical editor. In other words, you edit a plain text file in an editor (vi what else?) and then run lilypond on the file to produce sheet music in PDF. The result is what you see above, which happens to be a Hounds original called Sho'nuff Hoodoo written by our front man. I came up with the drum score. Now if I could only properly count the measures and repeats it should come out ok. I'll see if I can post an mp3 of the song once (if?) we get it recorded.


Arrived home last night around 23:00 quite knackered. This morning I took some time to clean up all the previous posts with some html formatting. A little nit-picky I suppose, but I think it looks better.

Being at home my net connection is better than most places on the road even though they all advertise "high-speed internet". It's all basically DSL as far as I can tell and most connections are highly asynchronous in that downloads are fast but uploads are limited. Optimized for web browsing of course but not very good for uploading voluminous data like pics or movies.

So it's from home that I had to goof around with a movie I made of two airports: Zurich and DTW. The movie's kinda crappy as I haven't yet figured out what are the best settings so I'm just using the default at present (mp4 compressed down for web streaming; this means that iMovie chops it pretty harshly down to something like 15 fps, I might change this later). The first part at Zurich isn't all that interesting actually. It was just a test of 360 panning just before I went through passport control. Passport control was fairly painless; they mainly looked at the passport and boarding pass. Within the secure area I managed to get my Swiss taxes refunded. That was a bit of a hassle; I guess they want you to run around a bit. I had to get a stamp at customs then take that to the tax refund place. You can only do this beyond passport control since they want to make sure that you're actually going to leave the country. All that legwork for about 10 Euros. Still, that'll buy a coffee or two.

The second segment is from that colorful tunnel at DTW, which I suppose is fitting to include since that's more or less how I started the blog or at least this particular Zurich-Tuebingen trip segment.

Next, it's SIGGRAPH in San Diego, coming up in less than a week. Just enough time to do laundry and then repack.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Planes, Trains, and Automobile(s)

Corny title, but...accurate. Pics include the Zurich Hauptbahnhof, outside and the main board inside. How the trains work: you buy a ticket, either from the agent or kiosk (ATM-like kiosk). The ticket is either a specific route (e.g., Zurich to Tuebingen, one way or return) or covers city zones (e.g., in Zurich downtown is zone 10 and you need zone 10 + 1 to get to the airport). For zone-covering tickets you need a duration as well. I had a 24 hr ticket to cover travel on trams and trains. Once you have your ticket you look on the board to find your train (to Flughafen in this case) and look to see what time it leaves and from what platform. You have to be quick cause the trains only sit there for a few minutes. The third pic is already from Schipol, Amsterdam's airport as I was boarding the flight to DTW (Detroit). That's where I am now but have to end since I now need to board the flight to GSP. Airport hotspots are useful for these blog updates as well as catching up to email. I just downloaded that COGAIN paper from the author I met at APGV so I think I now have all my material for the keynote. I put in a few slides on the plane to Detroit. Doubt I'll get anything done on the last leg though. It should only be an hour or two. Then it's an hour drive home and I'm done!

It's a Rap!

I know, I know, it's supposed to be "It's a Wrap!", suggesting that APGV is in the books. But, just like upon leaving home for this trip, I woke up with House of Pain's "Top O' The Mornin' To Ya!" rap song playing in my head. Must be that catchy bass line.

Anyway, it is a wrap, and I must say APGV was excellent. With some of these people not showing to SIGGRAPH this year, perception papers moving to APGV (although I heard there will be one or two at SIGGRAPH still this year), and social events drying up (no more MKP dessert party?), why bother going? I think in the off years when APGV isn't co-located with SIGGRAPH (like this year), might as well skip SIGGRAPH (and save some money; SIGGRAPH is getting really expensive lately while its quality is actually decreasing). In 2008 they are co-located and back in L.A. (yawn!), but in 2009 when APGV goes to Crete (that was one popular suggestion and I hope it sticks), I'd rather go there than wherever SIGGRAPH goes. The pic is of the restaurant car of the ICE bahn (Inter-City Express) from Horb to Zurich. Very nice ride, sweetened by a plate of really tasty ice cream and some water. Quite refreshing. The time flew by even faster since it was mostly consumed talking with another researcher in Zurich. So I now know two people there. He had a lot of interesting ideas that I hope can lead to future APGV papers.

This morning I'm ready to go catch the train connection between the Hauptbahnhof and the Flughafen. The train leaves in about 1 hour, then I should still have about 2 hours lead time at the airport, should be plenty of time to grab a Starbucks. On the plane I guess I need to start working on my keynote talk. At GSP I had a couple of hours wherein I managed to download a bunch of relevant papers that I intend to cover in the talk. At APGV there was a poster that is relevant and that will appear as a 3-pager in the COGAIN proceedings. That would make my talk quite up-to-date as well as provide a nice segue into current work to be presented by those authors as well as myself. My COGAIN paper (with a researcher at UW and CU students) happens to be on the same topic of eye typing! These coincidences (meeting people doing similar work) I think are a direct result of attending events such as APGV. Which just goes to show that one needs to attend these events fairly regularly just to keep abreast with what's happening in the field.

Ok, time to wrap up this post and head out. Cheers!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Tuebingen: Day 3

Brief entry since I have to quickly pack, eat breakfast, and head off to the conference; have to give my talk in the 2nd (last) session then come back to the hotel to grab my bags and head off to the train station, back to Zurich. The pics show two typical conference scenes: an oral presentation and the poster session. In some ways a poster is more work because quite often you end up talking more than you would given an oral presentation. Still, it's a good way to interact with your audience.

This last pic is also typical, and perhaps the main reason for holding the conference in the first place :) This happens to be lunch with friends of mine that I've known for a number of years. The conference is a great way to get together with cool people working on interesting stuff. A lot of info gets exchanged, contacts get made, etc. Later on in the day I would find myself once again with these fellows, and a few other people at the summer festival going on here in Tuebingen. No pics of that, sorry, but what it was was a bunch of town merchants (caterers and the like) putting up tented stands serving food and drink while the um-pa-pa band played off in the distance. Nice weather for this kind of thing and very popular. We happened to eat at a stand run by my hotel; I had some kind of "giant ravioli" dish with the raviolis stuffed with something creamy and trout apparently. I couldn't taste the trout, but it was good nonetheless. Ok, off to breakfast, then the conference, and back to Zurich; it's going to be a long day.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Tuebingen: Day 2

APGV started with a tour of the Max Planck Institute (MPI). Talk about Clemson we just installed an 8-camera Vicon mocap system. Here, in one lab they had 16 cameras, mainly for VR research. In the next room they'd set up a (huge) robot arm to serve as a virtual helicopter simulator. There was also a kind of surround-sight display that you literally stepped in and were surrounded by imagery from multiple projectors (were they hard to calibrate? "Yes!" was the answer; this has to do with making sure that no seams are visible from multiple projected images.) Kind of like a rounded CAVE but without the sharp corners. Then there was another version of a helicopter simulator, composed of about 9 flat panels that they had just set up that very day (about an hour before the tour). It's hard to describe all of it...the day ended with a BBQ reception. Today it's a full day of paper presentations ending with the keynote address on dynamic range and visual perception.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tuebingen: Day 1.5

Ok, so while the hotel's net connection is getting fixed (the hotel manager/maybe-owner didn't seem too happy about it either :) I backpacked it around town looking for an Internet cafe. I was expecting a nice darkwood little cafe table, comfy chairs, tasty coffee, maybe a sugary snack and a wifi connection (with a power jack close at hand). No such luck. I asked in a couple of places but they just told me to keep going farther down the street. Until I finally emerged out of old town Tuebingen into the modern-day section. Then I found this place. What a dump! The pic's blurry, and that's just as well. You should be able to see the carrel my laptop is situated in, with the power cord extending behind me plugging into the wall (why not install a power strip or outlet in the carrel?). At least what you get is a hardline connection (feels about 100Mbps—yup, that's what it is according to Apple's "Network Utility" app), with the cat-6 cable conveniently duct-taped to the desk :) In the pic you can also see the tacky sans-serif printed letters "T CA" of "INTERNET CAFE" scotch-taped to the windows. The guy next to me had some kind of Hindu song blaring out his workstation (you can rent a workstation or plug your laptop) and the guy opposite me is smoking. (Lots of smoking around here; guess Germany hasn't gone fully smoke-free yet; yeah in the old days I'd light one up too while pounding on the qwerty but these days I can't stand the way my jeans smell the next day, pew!)

So that'll do it for today probably. I'm quite fed up with my cell phone camera and saw a nice Canon 7 megapixel that maybe I'll at least go take a look at. I played with a couple at a large gadget store in Zurich and after resetting the language to English, the camera functioned just like you'd expect its American counterpart to. One thing I'm worried about is its battery charger; obviously it'll be made for European wall outlets. But I'm thinking that might not be a bad idea since I think it might be easier to pick up a US one back in the states than it might be finding a European one later (next time I'm in Europe). The guy across from me just sneezed and/or blew his nose or something, so I think I'll take that as an indication that it's time to vamoose.

Tuebingen: Day 1

First few pics are of the hotel: Am Schloss ("The Castle"?). A quaint little hotel on a rather steep hill. I hiked it on up here all the way from the train station, about 1km (about 2/3 mi) but it seemed longer with the luggage and hills. I was drippin' sweat when I finally got my bags up to the 4th floor!. The room is fairly typical-European: small beds with quilts. Hooray for quilts. Why do Americans insist on that silly sheet/blanket combo when a quilt is much nicer. The amenities are nice; I often end up judging the place by the quality of its shower. Is it tall enough (yes), powerful enough (yes), etc. And there's a nice pub just two doors up from my hotel "wing" which is most convenient :)

Then in the last pic you see what would normally be a joy to behold to any traveling geek: one's very own wifi router, with large, imposing cooling fins so you know the signal strength is going to be almost like being on the hardline. Unfortunately the thing started flaking out not about 3 minutes after I got my laptop hooked on. It started out ok, then you could see the little wifi icon blip, blip, blip. I looked at the net config window and the blipping looked like it was this router coming alive (you could see the base station nic address changing) and changing my IP address in the process. I must have initially been on another base station somewhere else in the building. The weird thing is that this router changed my IP address from what looks normal to me (broadcast to one that looks like it's on a "subnet once removed" (broadcast I can't claim to fully understand networking so I don't know whether that's a correct set up or not, but I know that once the IP change happened I was no longer on the net even though the idiot indicators suggested I was "connected" with excellent signal strength. Yeah, signal strength I don't doubt, but the actual routing configs I find suspect. Anyway, today the whole hotel was offline so who knows, maybe the thing was doomed to failure anyway. (Of course my unplugging and plugging in and otherwise "troubleshooting" the router probably didn't help matters, but once a geek always a geek, eh? ;)

These last three pics are of the old town section of Tuebingen. The open market was just down the street from my hotel. Lots of fresh fruits, veggies, meats, all sorts of things. Beyond that there are numerous cafes, etc. Outside the old town the city takes on a normal appearance. The hotel people couldn't tell me how to get to the conference hall but I happened to find the tourist info house and they gave me the right directions. Turns out it's within walking distance from the hotel, via several windy and hilly streets (to get out of old town) and then down a normal city street. It's hard to tell from the pic but the hall has a banner outside advertising the APGV conference alongside the other one running concurrently (TWK or something; something on perception, so the topic is relevant, but not a conference I'm familiar with). Registration open in just about another hour which is where I'm heading to next. Then tonight's evening program is a tour of the Max Planck Institute (MPI) where the reception is to be held. Talks start tomorrow and conclude Friday afternoon (it's a small conference, not unlike ETRA). I present in the last session on Friday.

On Track to Tuebingen

This is a "catch-up" post that I would have posted last night if the router in my Tuebingen hotel room wasn't flaking out. But more on that in the next post...this post is about the trek to Tuebingen. First, the street image is of Bahnhof Strasse in Zurich. A kind of ritzy shopping street. Look, it even has its own web page. My friend from the University of Zurich took me around to numerous shops as I was in search of yet another jacket. I saw a nice, light 3/4 raincoat in Schipol that I liked but thought the price too high (airport prices I was guessing). I eventually found it at this larger mall farther away from Bahnhof Strasse which was just as well. In the end it seemed like this particular mall had a better selection than the ritzy stores anyway, and probably better prices. A lot of sales were around (50-70%) but the jacket was not a sale item unfortunately. I don't have a photo of it but I expect to be wearing it later here for a bit (if it's not too hot; it is right now midday), and in Leicester and Prague later this year. After shopping I grabbed my bags, got on the tram, and off to the Zurich Hauptbahnhof to catch a pair of trains to Tuebingen. The train station is the large building in the 2nd shot, the train I caught is shown arriving behind the smiling railyard worker. Nice train, didn't get a shot of the interior. If there were two of us, I would have ventured around more, maybe brought some food back from the dining car. As it were I stayed close to the luggage. Maybe that's being too paranoid I dunno. I was about to have a snooze when a pile of what I guessed to be 10-12 year-olds clambered aboard. Man, were they loud! Throwing hats back and forth, running up and down the aisle, etc. Two hours later the train pulled in to Horb 2-3 minutes late. That's important because the way the trains operate (they stop at a station for 1-2 minutes, 5 at most) and how they schedule transfers (5 minutes to hop from one rail platform to another), there's not much wiggle room. So it was off to the races with luggage in tow to run underground to the next platform where the "Kultur Bahn" or something like that was already waiting. It was this little single-car train thingy that looked like it belonged on a city light-rail system instead of train tracks. However, it got me to Tuebingen which is where I am now. Next post will contain more stuff on this little "University town".

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Next time take the train

The airlines' inflexibility is absolutely mindboggling. I wanted to skip the first leg of the return trip from Zurich to Schipol and instead take the night train from Tuebingen directly to Schipol. I had a sleeper car all booked for the 8 hr train ride. But nooooooo! NWA wouldn't let me simply omit one leg of the trip. Doing so would cancel the remainder of the return trip and if I hadn't checked this I would have been royally screwed upon arriving at Schipol. Why this should be so, however, is beyond me. It is illogical to put it mildly. I have already paid for the seat; all I wanted to do was not use it. Nope, they consider the ticket "a contract" which cannot be broken. What a bunch of jerks. And for them to be this way with the prices they charge is really frustrating.

So, what's to be learned from this? In the future, consider booking open-jaw tickets to begin with, or pick some central (cheap) location to fly in to and then commute via train beyond. Setting up connections via the airlines is too constricting. The trains here are much more flexible, offering a larger variety of connections with cancellations honored fairly quickly (and in full in most cases). I should not have booked this trip with Zurich being the flight's endpoint. Instead, I should have either picked a more central city like Frankfurt or Amsterdam and connected via train, or picked Stuttgart as the flight destination since that is the more logical point of departure. For future reference: ALWAYS CONSIDER THE LAST CITY BEING VISITED AS THE POINT OF DEPARTURE FIRST!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Zurich: Day 2

Rainy day today. Was exhausted after meetings today, but dinner made up for a pretty tiring day. Went to this 500 year old restaurant: Zeughauskeller. The front page had the beer list, so you knew it had to be good :) I had the sausage sampler, what else? A bunch of different "wursts" on a stick. In the third pic you can see William Tell's bow (they had a German name for it but I can't make it out in the pic). The day outside was kinda rainy though and on the walk to the hotel I got a bit soaked even though I had my mini umbrella.

Tomorrow I have to make a trip to the airport to reschedule my trip home. The return trip to Zurich from Tuebingen involved either a 3 hour train trip but a day early or an 8 trip at midnight. After that I'd still have to board a plane to get back to Schipol. Instead, I found a train that will go straight from Tuebingen up to Schipol in 8 hours. If I have to sit on the train for 8 hours, I might as well go straight to Schipol and skip the Zurich-Amsterdam flight altogether. So that's my plan and tomorrow I have to go book the train ticket and also inform the airline that I'll be skipping the first leg of my return trip. I just don't want them cancelling the remaining two legs on me...

Then I think I'll walk around Zurich, at least in the morning. It's not supposed to be raining tomrrow.

Zurich: Day 1

A couple of snaps leading up to Zurich. The first two are of DTW (Detroit airport). For some time now I couldn't remember where that long colorful tunnel was, but it's here! The pic is quite blurry but perhaps maybe it should be to evoke the feeling one gets crossing this thing. It's very wide, music's playing, you're going along on the moving sidewalk, and the wall panels change colors. At one point the whole theme went from a glowing red to a cool blue. I even heard some people ooh and ahh at the change.

The other DTW pic (also blurry) is of the concourse. It's so long that if you're too friggin lazy you can take the red monorail from one end to the other (not visible in the pic but the rail is at the upper right).

The other two pics are of the touristy area of Zurich, right outside the Hauptbanhof, or as the Germans would say it the maintrainstation (some words are literally compounded together like that). I'll try to get a pic of the Hauptbanhof later (tomorrow).

Right now I have to head down to breakfast, then off to University of Zurich to give a talk on eye tracking. More or less a typical "job talk", meaning it's "all about me" really and the type of work I do at Clemson. It's not that I'm looking for a job, but rather sharing ideas in hopes of sparking collaboration. Of the funded kind that is, heh heh :) Wish me luck...

Sunday, July 22, 2007


On Sun Jul 22 20:56:16 EDT 2007 the blog became self-aware...

I wanted to make a grande entrance on the blogosphere as it were and Robert A. Heinlein's book "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" came to mind. Although I think the Terminator movie(s) stole that particular line referring to Skynet, I've always remembered it about "Mike", the Luna computer that became self-aware. But I bet Heinlein wasn't the first to think up self-aware computers, either. Unfortunately I don't remember the specific quote, but I think it at least resembles the above sentence.

Back to this particular blog, now that it's been created. 20:56 EDT was actually 02:56 in Zurich, where I am presently. One of the anomalies of jet lag is waking up in the middle of the night thinking it's time to get up (or that you overslept). Since I was wide awake I thought I'd might as well start a blog. Seeing how I can now usually find a net connection wherever I go (it's about time, eh?), and since I usually have my laptop with me (email junkie), I thought I'd keep something of a brief, online journal of some of the places I visit. And maybe other stuff as well...more likely than not it'll include posts on eye tracking since that's often the reason why I'm traveling in the first place. At least those occasions when I have the laptop and am on the net.

The next few posts should include some pics of Zurich, just as soon as I figure out a convenient way to grab them off my phone, the only crappy camera I happen to have with me at the moment. Right now I think I'd better close this entry off since (as it so often happens) the net connection isn't all that reliable where I'm at and I'm not quite sure how this blogging thing's gonna go...