Monday, March 30, 2009

EG 2009

This is TUM, the Technical University of Munich. I don't know what those huge pipes represent, some math curve no doubt. However, I think I saw a guy sliding down inside one of the pipes on a carpet. I might have to investigate this tomorrow. Today it was just tutorials for which I didn't register, so all I did was pick up my conference materials. They assembled all the tutorials, STARs (STate of the Art Reports), educational papers, and the short papers in one rather thick volume. My short paper is in this volume, while the proceedings of the full papers are due to arrive tomorrow. I don't know if I'll bother getting them; the short paper book I have is heavy enough and all the papers are on CD anyway. Maybe I'll spare myself the hassle of carrying heavy books around. Tonight is the opening reception for which I picked up my voucher ticket and am good to go. I do my short paper 1-minute fast forward on Wednesday, then my short paper on Thursday and that's my contribution. There are a couple of interesting papers on education, crowd movement, and terrain modeling that I may sit in on. Tuesday may be my only chance to take in some museums, however, so I may just do that. Along with the proceedings EG handed out a tourist booklet with a long list of places worth seeing. Going to have to choose just one or two.

Barcelona to Munich

For my last night in Barcelona I ventured out in search of the first place I went to for tapas. I found it! It's called Bilbao Berria. I liked this place a lot because it was self-service: this is the place with the long toothpicks that you collect as you eat the tapas and at the end just hand in your toothpics and they count them up for you. They keep bringing out new things to try so you can keep on munching. There was a third place we went to on my first night there where they would also announce the latest tray of tapas coming out. It also had a similar fun atmosphere (sort of like a conference reception but with good finger food!) but I couldn't find that place...maybe next time.

Hey, look at the screen! Boarding a flight to Menorca? Yup, this was a flight you'd kind of expect to see on some sitcom composed of a comedy of errors. The Menorca screen was the first. Several people ran up to notify the Air Berlin personnel. They eventually got it reverted to Munich. Then they couldn't get a bus to transport everyone to the plane (this was at the Palma di Mallorca, or PMI airport, one of those airports where the planes sit out there on the tarmac and you get bussed out to them). Then it turns out they overbooked by two people. Here's the string of comedic errors that happened to me: (1) one of the people that had to get off was this lady sitting right next to me; (2) the guy who took her spot couldn't sit still and after our snack had to get up and stand up by the cockpit (stretching his legs?); (3) the seat of the guy right in front of me was broken, in a permanently reclined position. I lost track of the number of times I had to get up out of my seat! It was a trifecta of errors! Of course after they offloaded the unfortunate mother and daughter pair, they kept us sitting on the tarmac for an hour while they searched for their luggage. Result: two-hour delay.

By the time I got myself into my hotel and unpacked, I was starving! It was around 9pm or so and so I had to hustle out to find something to eat, fearing that all kitchens would close at 10pm. It was Sunday night and Kaufingstr. looked desserted. I thought "pub" would be the best: a beer and a plate of sausages would be ideal. So off I went in search of an Irish pub, what else? I knew there was one around here but couldn't find it. I walked up and down this pedestrian street and nothing. Found a McDonald's, Burger King, but no Irish pub. Eventually I found a decent German place which served the purpose. On the first page I found my sausage plate, along with mashed potatoes, pretty much the bangers and mash that I was looking for. Added to that a glass of weissbier (what beer) and it hit the spot.

AT&T Basic hot spots: there are none

Letter to AT&T:

I would like to register a complaint regarding AT&T Basic hotspots: there don't seem to be any!

I often travel to Europe via US airports (e.g., DTW) and Amsterdam in particular (Schiphol). I also pick hotels with wifi service. Most of these locations offer Boingo accessibility which then in turn allows logging on to AT&T wifi via the weroam/ prefix, in my case being weroam/xxxxxxxxxxxxx, my FastAccess DSL. I upgraded to Xtreme service so that I could make use of AT&T hotspot service.

I have only managed to ever make use of the Basic hot spot service once or twice a year or so ago. Now it seems that although Boingo and other providers still show AT&T in their drop-down lists, all these hotspots are now Premier hot spots, for which AT&T wants to charge another $19.95 a month.

Personally I think the AT&T Basic hotspot linkage with DSL service falls in the realm of false advertising, since I can never anymore get this to work and hence benefit from this association.

The AT&T wifi locator is buggy resulting in an extremely frustrating user experience. If I search for Michigan locations, for example, then click on Detroit to check for hot spot availability at DTW, the locator throws up results for Cleveland, OH. When I look for hot spots in Europe, I get a map with many blue dots on it, which look encouraging, but drilling down to particular cities produces empty results (e.g., Munich, which the located misinterpreted as Much, but seemed to at least recognize Munchen, Germany).

The end result is that I pay for what the AT&T web pages suggest is a service (Basic hot spots) that I can never find. I think this is a gross misrepresentation by AT&T. At the very least the wifi locator should be redesigned to show truthfully that the Basic hot spots are few and far between instead of leading to a false hope that maybe I may be able to take advantage of service for which I "upgraded" to.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

La Rambla

This is La Rambla, the main pedestrian mall. It leads down from Placa Catalunya to the water. Along the way there are various street performers (e.g., living statues), and little market stands selling odds and ends. It reminded me of Esplanade Park in Helsinki—that mall also has trees running on both sides and also has similar kind of market stands in the evening.

At the bottom of La Rambla stands this statue of Columbus. Pointing to America perhaps? (It's hard to see from my pic, but his right arm is outstretched and pointing.) A travel guide that one of my hosts lent me says Columbus returned "in triumph to Barcelona with six Carib Indians. However, the city lost out when the monopoly on New World trade was given to Seville and Cádiz." Past Columbus' column is the Port de Barcelona with a pedestrian swing bridge and a shopping mall and aquarium beyond.

I like looking at boats and the port was a nice example of Mediterranean mooring, where the boats are backed (usually) stern-to the dock. One of the boats is bow-to the dock, but that seems unusual. It's not widely seen in US ports I understand, but it seems to make more economical use of space.

Tapas and beer (and Cava)

My first night here my hosts took me out for tapas and beer. Tapas are sort of like Catalan/Spanish sushi; it seems the best way to describe them. They're small servings of food, like appetizers, that you sample, or load up on, depending on how hungry you are. We walked down the pedestrian street in the pic (I think a street next to La Rambla, the larger and main pedestrian mall) to a place where they served the tapas on plates with large toothpick-like skewers. When you've had enough (and want to go to the next bar), you count up the sticks and pay. Kind of like counting up sushi plates in Tokyo.

This is the first place we went to: looks like "Bildao"-something. When you walk around town by yourself you tend to remember places better than when being led along. I wish I'd paid more attention because I'd like to find this "Bildao"-something tonight. Picking out the tapas is easier than ordering food in Spanish :) Tapas are also more varied than sushi. Sushi is very fishy; tapas range from sausages to fish and also to dessert. After this place we went on to another little bar with more tapas but also with Cava. Cava is basically champagne, i.e., sparkling wine. And it's very good. Here the tapas were slightly different. We had fish on a plate and a plate of bread. You pick up the bread and pick out which fish to put on it and scarf that down. Take a sip of Cava, repeat. The nice thing about the whole tapas thing is that you go bar hopping, and while you're drinking in each place, you're also consuming little bites of food. So you don't get too drunk.

The last place we hit was Bubo, where the tapas were mainly desserts. Very sweet, very rich, and very tasty. The pic is of some edible things at the Bubo next door to where we were. The confectionary counterpart of the bar I guess. The little sugary creatures looked cute so I snapped a pic. I betcha they'd be pretty tasty too.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Arrival in Barcelona. The flight from Memphis to Amsterdam was dreadful. I thought I picked a good seat in selecting the exit row, but although it had plenty of legroom it was one of the least comfortable seats I've ever flown in. Being too close to the exit door puts you in this kind of refrigerated bubble wherein you get a good feel for the -54F outdoor temperature. The seats themselves were extremely rigid due to their metal frame that is needed to house the collapsible DVD screens. And being metal really reinforced the perception of sitting in a small fridge. Not pleasant at all; I'm amazed that I managed to eek out about 4.5 hrs of sleep on that flight. (I just changed my seat assignment on the return flight; no frickin' way am I sitting in those seats again.) So it was a pleasure finally walking through a nice, large airport with plenty of sunshine. See what I mean about the tall ceilings? I wish our ol' GSP was this airy and bright. On the right you can just make out the train I missed...the next one didn't show up till about an hour later, which basically means that I have to really plan ahead for my flight out, e.g., give myself about 2.5 hrs time to get to the airport. I could cab it, but the train should end up costing about a tenth of what the cab ride might be.

The trains here are a bit confusing. I thought the train out of the airport was the R10 Renfe line. I think though that temporarily it is being called the C2 line. Still Renfe, but C2. And it's the green line instead of the brown line. I wanted to buy the 4-day ticket, but they wouldn't sell me that ticket at the airport. "In Barcelona" the guy said. In Barcelona, "Tomorrow" is what they told me whereas I thought I could buy a ticket one day in advance. Maybe today I'll get one. The idea is to get one ticket that will be good for all zones (2) that I need to get around in and that will last through Sunday. On all trains. This 4-day travel card should be the most cost-effective, but I don't know how to get one. My hosts here use the T-10 ticket which I've read on the web is really popular. It has no time limit, rather, the 10 refers to the number of trips allowed. I have this ticket in my hand, yet I can't see how many trips it has remaining. I'd rather just get the 4-day card... But I digress. The images you see up there there are my first views of the city after I got out of the train station. The only thing I had with me was a Google Earth satellite photo of the square in the right pic. The photo had the location of my hotel on it, but the trick of course is to orient this bird's eye view to street level to figure out one's orientation. And how are you supposed to guess at what the roof of each of the surrounding buildings looks like? So you look for features. The square that I was facing (Plaza Catalunya) happens to have two circular features at one end of it. These circular features look like fountains at street level. It took me a few minutes to realize this but once it sunk in, I turned left, walked half a block and presto! there's the hotel. Nice that this worked out because I really didn't feel like dragging my suitcase much further :) Hopefully I can pull the same thing off in Munich.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mobile office

So here I am at GSP writing up these blog entries...I don't particularly like GSP's interior color scheme (too dark), or its low ceilings, but you can't beat the free wifi and free power. At some other airports (e.g., DFW I think it was) they were charging for power—outrageous! (People were looking for free power outlets, usually behind vending machines; I think if this kind of charging for power BS starts spreading, people will unplug the vending machines in favor of their laptops.) Similar thing with wifi—I think it's getting harder to find free wifi. I have a Boingo account, and AT&T is supposed to offer "free" wifi to their DSL/iPhone customers, but all I keep finding is AT&T's "premier" wifi hotspots, for which they want an additional $29.95 a month! AT&T = American Telephone & Thievery. So I'll use power and wifi where I can find it. In the pic you'll see I'm charging my iPhone, I downloaded pics from my camera, and am drinking my vitamin water. I started drinking these when I was buying lunch at school. They don't seem to have a lot of crap in them beyond vitamins and water and they taste ok. They didn't have the lemonade flavor I like (but this kiwi-strawberry isn't bad). They also didn't have my usual bag of M&Ms, bummer!

A couple of other notes on my trip up here. On the highway something went flying up off the road and nailed the beamer head-on. I couldn't avoid it. It looked like a piece of 2x6, maybe about 6 inches long. It looked like it splintered as it bounced off the front fascia and I heard a pretty loud thud as it did so. I figured for sure the plastic cracked or worse the xenon headlight was toast. On arrival at GSP I found nothing! Maybe the thing just bounced off, whatever it was. Lucky! Meanwhile, my garment bag, a very good bag, btw, is starting to show some wear and tear (literally). The bottom part ripped and a few of the screwheads are starting to show through the fabric covering them. The bottom part would catch on the pavement, so I had no choice but to duct tape the thing. It ain't pretty, but I hope at least it holds for a while...I'll see how it held up in Barcelona.

Corey's drive

Today I'm off to Barcelona and then on to Munich. To get to the highway up to GSP, I took the drive that Corey takes to work every morning. Very woody, a few twists and turns, but very pleasant. She goes over the lake via at least one bridge, and passes by a couple of farms. One has cows on it, another sheep. Right about now all the trees are about to start budding out so it should look extra nice. Today I saw trees with very vibrant pink blossoms. You can just make it out in the pic at right below, just out of the front windshield. Anyone know what tree that is? Wysteria?

Forest walk

Last weekend after returning from Aspen we took the cats out for a forest walk. For the incredulous, yes, you can "walk" cats—they don't like harnesses (although we've done the harness and leash thing when they were kittens), but they will follow you on a walk in the forest (at least ours will). And they really like it, too. They get all excited, get bushy tails, and they run up the occasional tree (it seems like just to show off). They like exploring, sniffing (stinky) things, and checking out new places. However, I don't think they go out very far by themselves. They like us to guide the way. And they more or less know when we go on these walks. Here's Harley waiting for us to gather up our stuff (usually a couple of beers and walking sticks).

The beavers have constructed at least two dams on this little creek, but it seems that the one in the pic (the one farther upstream) has either failed or they're letting some water through. The previous, really large dam they built downstream collapsed (or was destroyed), which is why, we suspect, they built this dam upstream. Because the downstream dam isn't holding back water, the creek is low enough for the cats to explore. They often like to stop to get a drink of "fresh" water (although sometimes the water we see has gas floating on it, so I don't know how good it is).

Friday, March 20, 2009

Aspen Shopping

Yesterday on our day off we hit a bunch of stores in Aspen. I was looking at helmets (mainly for sound options; note to self: get a bluetooth transmitter for wireless iPod to helmet connectivity), shoes, rolling duffel bags, pants, and boots. I got a pair of shoes that are better vented than my older hiking shoes and a large rolling duffel bag. The duffel I brought with me to Aspen had no wheels and so was a bit heavy to lug around the airport. The rolling bag is much more convenient. Corey and I looked at updating our ski pants but couldn't find anything that fit very well and that was reasonably priced. Aspen prices are pretty high, particularly at some of the high-end stores. I saw fantastic leather coats at one place that didn't even have prices listed. "If you have to ask..." I'm pretty sure they were about $2,000 or more. A bit much. After shopping we had a couple of beers and a pizza and then I snuck in one more purchase of a tall leather pouch for boarding passes. The airlines are so cheap now that they not only charge for luggage ($15), additional weight (over 50 lbs), and they have stopped providing those paper envelopes for boarding passes. So now I have a leather one that I'll use over and over. Right now I'm typing this up at the airport, where there's free wifi. Should be boarding in about half an hour.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Return to Highlands

Today was our last ski day in Aspen. We skied some of our favorite runs on Aspen Highlands. Along the way I found this interesting sign that gave us both a laugh. Oh and we also figure out what "MGR Restaurant" was: Merry Go Round Restaurant, where we ate lunch. We're both pretty tired and think that next year, wherever we end up, we should probably add a day of rest in between ski days.

I wanted to comment (and commend) the excellent ski corral service on these mountains. At the end of the day instead of carrying your gear around, you give it to these guys. If you want to switch mountains, they'll transport your skis and poles where they'll be waiting for you the next morning. It cost a few bucks but for us "premium renters" it was free. And most convenient. Today we returned our boots, skis, and poles to the rental company (Four Mountain Co.). Everything was bar-coded so they just scanned in our stuff and said we were good to go. And just like that our four days of skiing was up.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Aspen Snowmass

Today we took the bus out to Snowmass (we're making good use of the free bus system here, which is really excellent). The mountain lived up to expectations of a large choice or runs, but it was really crowded. Being now used to no lift lines (spoiled is more like it), I was rather surprised at how many people we encountered on the lifts where we started. The first run, although deserted, was on crappy snow. So not a very good start to the day. The houses pictured here looked really nice and were right under the first chair (or was it second) that we went up on (Two Creeks).

After Two Creeks we went up Elk Camp and took a couple of cruiser runs there. We didn't spend too much time on any chair, but rather worked our way from East to West. So from Elk Camp, we went down Adams' Avenue and cut down to the Alpine Springs lift, then transferred over to High Alpine. I think we took Reidar's and went down to Sheer Bliss. This was the best lift on the hill. Not crowded, with excellent medium-sloped moguls on the lift line. At the top of the lift you see the Cirque poma lift taking you up on to Rocky Mtn. High. We didn't take this but kept skiing Sheer Bliss after an excellent pizza lunch at Up 4 Pizza.

After a few more runs on Sheer Bliss, we traversed over to Sam's Knob (after first missing it and having to go down to Coney Glade). Took Campground down to the Campground chair and then started working our way back to base. This entailed taking Banzai Ridge, then Trestle, then back down Adam's Avenue, thus ending the day. At the end of the day we had to decide where to return to for our final ski day. It was a tough decision because we had not explored Snowmass fully, but I think partially due to the crowds (it's a big ski school hill as we found out), and partially because there is still some unexplored terrain on Highlands, we chose to return to the Highlands tomorrow. It's also a much shorter bus ride, giving us a bit more time to ski our last day.

Aspen Highlands

Living the high life! We're at the Cloud Nine Bistro atop Aspen Highlands. That's the second mountain we've skied here at Aspen. When I heard "Aspen" I used to think some bunny hill for celebrities who don't know how to ski. Boy was I wrong. "Aspen" means four hills, three of them with very good, challenging terrain. The order we happened to have selected keeps giving us a better mountain to explore. Aspen Mountain was good, if not a little limited in area. Aspen Highlands was excellent—very reminiscent of Whistler, but with better snow.

This is the Highlands Bowl. To get there we hopped on a snow cat that drove us up a ways along a ridge. It was pretty exciting, reminded me somewhat of getting on a plane to sky dive. I was half expecting someone to yell out "door!". The chute down into the bowl was pretty tough, with chunky snow and a steep incline. Once in the bowl, the funnel you go down was similar to Whistler's Harmony Bowl. The lift also reminded me of the venerable Blue Chair.

I preferred the Highlands over Ajax (Aspen Mountain), and today we're off to Snowmass, which looks even better than the previous two. The trail map shows a really large selection of trails. We met a trio of Italians from New Jersey at lunch who gave us some suggestions on how to ski Snowmass: start with these long cruisers on its east slope, then "follow the sun" all the way across the slope. Sounds like a plan! Cheers!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Aspen Mountain

Here we are just a ways away from the top of Aspen Mountain. I took a shot of the trail map as evidence that yes, there exist mountains without any `easy' runs. Mind you, as one of my colleagues at work would say, this trail grading probably suffers a bit from grade inflation: some of the blue, intermediate runs were pretty easy. And it's not like the mountain was devoid of newbies either. But all in all, Aspen is fairly steep, pretty much all over the place, so I suppose perhaps there's some justification for removing the `easiest' runs from the map.

Speaking of levels of difficulty, this pic shows where we're headed today: Aspen Highlands. Just slightly off-center and to the left you'll see the Highland Bowl (I think that's what it's called). Getting up there entails a snow cat ride and then hiking. I'm not into hiking, but I wouldn't mind checking out the snow cat ride. If they'll let us ski there. I hear it's experts only. Corey thinks there may be a test of skill or something. Me, I think there may be at least some strong cautionary words with a waiver of liability perhaps, but I'd at least like to see what's there to assess further.

I don't remember when Corey snapped this pic, but it may have been after we'd skied down to the bottom so that I could change out my rental boots. The first pair I got was killing my ankles. Maybe they were old boots with little padding left. They gave me a newer pair that fit much better. I could only ski about an hour and a half with the first pair. I guess boots may be the biggest trouble with renting. We met a guy from Tennessee who said he did something similar. Having skied Whistler, Steamboat, etc., he just brings his boots along and only rents skis and poles. He says for the small number of times he skis in a year (15 I think he said) it's not worth owning a pair of skis. And every time he rents (year to year) he gets to try out new equipment. I like the latter aspect of renting as well. Right now I'm on a pair of twin-tipped Salomons, 185 cm maybe, and I have to admit these things turn pretty nicely. They're also much wider than my "old man" Volkls, although I'm not quite sure how width affects turning. Anyway, we only ski but once a year, so although he had a good argument for bringing boots along, I'm not sure we ski often enough to justify the expense. Corey lucked out with a fairly new pair of boots and says for the first time she's skiing without pain to her shins. So you never know what you're going to may be crap, but it may be good too.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Aspen Arrival

This morning we got up dark and early at 03:00, got ready, packed up, and headed off to the airport at 04:30. We flew out of GSP via Cincinnati/North Kentucky airport (CVG), pictured at left, then through SLC, Salt Lake City, UT. Scarfed down two egg mcmuffins in Greenville on the way and had a $7 bagel on one of the flights. I guess gone are the days of complimentary meals on flights. Corey almost got dinged an additional $15 for her luggage if I hadn't gotten my allowance for two pieces (due to my frequent flyer miles).

On the flight to SLC we were on a Boeing 757 and look! they finally got personalized entertainment thingys. Notice the credit card slot at bottom, though. Of course to watch a movie you have to cough up $6! What a rip-off! The TV shows were free and it looked like they were getting live TV (CNN, etc.). Maybe they fly with TV satellite dishes now. Live TV was pretty boring though, there's never anything on, no matter if you're at home or in the air. I listened to some music instead. One aspect that I really liked about these systems was that they were touch-screen. I think that, if they don't get too greasy, it's a better interface than the hand-held paddles you use on the airbuses (A330s). But there the vids are free so they're still better IMO.

On the final leg we got a good glimpse of Snowmass on the descent. Looks niiiiice! I didn't know this but we were told our ski tickets should be good for all four hills: Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass, and Buttermilk. The last sounds kinda like a bunny hill, so I think we'll skip that one, but the cab driver told us about a snow cat ride up to a nice bowl up on Aspen Highlands that I'd like to check out. I think we'll start with Aspen tomorrow and then move on to the other hills later in the week. Today, since there should still be plenty of time left in the day, we should figure out where to get our rentals. Last year at Squaw Valley we tried this and decided that it's too much of a hassle to lug around ski equipment any more. Particularly our now rather old equipment (last time I had my skis I got a comment that I had "old man skis" from someone in the lift line :)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Back in the slip

This weekend the sailing club where our sailboat is docked asked us to move our boat back. They had just redone the decking on the slips. They're not quite done but you can see the fresh wood on the dock fingers. They did a super job; the fingers are now much more stable (before that finger would bounce up and down whenever anyone stepped on it). To do the work they moved out all the boats. So yesterday we found where ours was and motored it back to the dock only to find our slip occupied. We moored next to where we're supposed to be. Today, on a gorgeous sunny, warm, but gusty day I went back to swap the boats. I moved ours out to an empty slip, then moved the boat in our slip over one space (to where ours was temporarily). Everything was working out ok except for when I was motoring back into our now vacant slip. A gust caught me broadside and I had to fend off from the boat I had just moved. Luckily a couple of club members had just happened to walk up to our boat and helped me out just in the nick of time. Strange how the timing just happened to work out. I retightened our dock lines to just how they're supposed to be and our boat is back snug in its original slip. We can leave her be and take off to Aspen next weekend without having to worry about moving more boats around.

Friday, March 6, 2009


I was pleasantly surprised to find out that our TAP article made the cover. TAP is the Transactions on Applied Perception, a journal whose purpose "is to further the development of inter-disciplinary research that crosses the boundaries between perception and computer science disciplines such as graphics, vision, acoustics and haptics." The simple-looking fuzzy color blobs depict the extent of the human retina's sensitivity to the RGB wavelengths (determined empirically by other researchers). Each blob depicts our 180 deg field of view. The whitish blob is a composite of the three colors showing pronounced eccentric sensitivity to blue, which makes sense ecologically. We used these images as masks in a gaze-contingent experiment (which is what the paper is about). Results showed that while we can degrade spatial resolution of images in a gaze-contingent manner without affecting performance such as visual search, we can't reduce color resolution as readily. The difference is roughly 5 degrees (spatial sensitivity) vs. 20 degrees (color sensitivity). Which means that color is important, in a nutshell.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Let it snow, let it snow

Beware the snows of March. We don't often get snow here, but on occasion it'll come down fairly thick. Like this evening: rather large flakes. And the few flakes we got were of course accompanied by an hour-long power outage. Typical. Well, better we get the snow than ice. Ice storms are much worse. The snow should stick around tonight but hopefully will be gone tomorrow. I wonder if we'll get a now day tomorrow. Meanwhile, we're both sitting at home trying to recover from a nasty cold I contracted two weeks ago and then gave to Corey last week. Exact same symptoms, just one week late. Time for spring break and then time for spring.