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Time is running by so fast, it’s unbelievable. Here’s what happened during the last (almost) two weeks.

On Saturday, I took the Caltrain to the airport to get Rick’s car, as he would be in Europe for three weeks. Thank you so much, Rick! Eventually my bike, which I left at the train station, would get a little jealous about the other means of transportation involved… However, it was nice hitting American roads again. Oh how I missed you, 2×6-lane highways!

I went to IKEA to get some tools for the kitchen and other stuff for my new home. IKEAs really look the same everywhere! (Except for IKEA no 1 in Stockholm maybe.) Even the meatballs taste the same. And as everywhere else, after walking through the whole store, you end up with many more things than you actually planned to buy (like a small palm tree for our living room).

Then the preparations for Pablo’s and my potluck (an informal party where everybody brings something to eat and/or to drink) started. We had made a reservation for the Village Center right next to our apartments; every tenant in Escondido Village can have this huge space (for around 60 people seated, 140 standing!) once in a month—for free!

As you might expect, I made Kaiserschmarrn (“Austrian-style pancake”, literally something like “Emperor’s mishmash”) and Zwetschkenröster (compote of plums), using 12 eggs and 2 kilograms of plums (4 pounds 6.5 ounces, as they say here).

Even though I skipped the lasagna I wanted to make as well, I was late for my own party; but so were almost all of the guests, fortunately. We had invited people from the office, interns from PARC, and “schoolmates” from Pablo’s English course. Still, the room didn’t fill up, obviously, but it was great fun. We had tons of food, beer, sangria, and Chocolate port.

On Sunday, after watching “Midnight in Paris” (very Woody Allen-like!) in a nice single-room cinema, I went to get back my bike from the train station. At least that’s what I had in mind—but it was gone! May you rod and burn in hell, thief of my beloved red cruiser bike! Of course, it wasn’t a very good idea to leave the bike overnight at the train station… It seems that after 6 years, the bike just had to be stolen another time. ;-) Shit happens.

On Monday, I had a meeting with Martha, Camilla, and (via Skype from Japan) Neil (a “T-con” as they say here), talking about future extensions to twex. Still pretty excited about it.

Concerning work, I discovered Orange, a really cool tool from Ljubljana for data mining, visualization, and analysis. It makes it particularly easy to apply different machine learning algorithms. Presented some results at our meeting on Wednesday, and I think it’s going in the right direction.

Although it’s easy to get around campus using the free shuttle buses, I absolutely needed a new bike. On Friday, I finally got a new beach cruiser at Walmart for $90. Shiny blue, single speed, single brake, double awesome. I’m happy and complete again. :) Cruising between Spanish mission-style buildings and palm trees in the Californian sun always makes me feel like on holidays—even if I work a lot.

Apart from cruising, I increasingly enjoy running on and around campus. The dish is the perfect place for it, it least if you don’t go at high noon, like I did with Pablo on Saturday. After that (and a frozen yogurt), Csongor and Tania (from Romania/Hungary) made a really great birthday party. They had like 15 different dishes (among them: plum dumplings!) which they had been preparing since Thursday morning. Yummy! (And the beer was good as well.)

We couldn’t party the whole night though, because on Sunday we went surfing again. This time, the waves weren’t as good as the other time, but it was fun nevertheless. Had vegetarian burgers and awesome nacho fries at a spacy restaurant. (We had been starving though, so maybe not the best conditions for rating the actual quality of food…) Played an almost-professional ;) game of beach volleyball. Oh how I love the beach!

We continued our sports session with tennis and basketball on Monday. It’s so convenient if all facilities are just a few meters away. Now I have to rest a little again though, because coming up next weekend is a serious hike in Yosemite, stay tuned!

Working and networking

With the slowly-becoming-usual delay, here’s what happened last week: On Monday, I was invited to the Innovation Ecosystems Summit by Martha Russell. Have a look at the authors of Semantic Analysis of Energy-Related Conversations in Social Media: A Twitter Case Study and you’ll know why I was invited. ;)

As expected, the conference was targeted more towards economics, which is of course not my primary scientific field of interest, but nevertheless it was very interesting. Listening to people like the director of an IBM research center at the world-wide hub of high-tech innovation feels just right. I particularly liked the session about data mining and visualization, starring charismatic Sean Gourley from Quid (a nice combination of data mining and visualization to locate innovative startups) and Mathieu Bastian from LinkedIn (who’s working on the awesome graph exploration tool Gephi). The food was pretty good as well. :)

On Tuesday, I continued working on stuff we (Mark, Tania, Markus, me) would discuss in our meeting on Wednesday. Basically, my work here aims at two things:

  1. understanding the collaboration of experts in the development of ICD-11, for instance by finding models to predict which concepts are likely to be changed (thereby measuring their “maturity”), and
  2. creating tools to examine and ideally improve collaboration.

While the first part naturally involves all sorts of statistics and machine learning stuff, the second part is rather of an engineering type. Interestingly enough, my TwitterExplorer (“twex”) comes into play again here, as it already provides the basics for browsing the ontology of diseases, which basically is a huge graph of diseases and categories they are in. People seem to like it.

I kept talking about it on Thursday, when I attended a presentation at the Triple Helix Conference by Camilla Yu, who used twex to analyze “branding and reputation of innovation hubs”. Moreover, I had a nice conversation with Jukka Huhtamäki from Finland about the potential future of a general interactive, Web-based network explorer. I’m really excited about working on it—as soon as I have time.

Surfing USA

This week was pretty busy, but finally here’s what happened last weekend: a lot of fun. :)

Friday was Nuthouse again. Love the music there, in general it’s somewhere around Richard Ashcroft, Mumford and Sons, Noah and the Whale, which is totally not what you’d expect when you see the place. Oh, and their restrooms are hilarious! :) Diving into the weekend.

On Saturday we (Pablo, Katja, a German au-pair he knows from his English class, and me) went to the Los Altos Art & Wine Festival. Considered buying a cowboy hat, but maybe I should get some cowboy boots first. Lots of beautiful pictures, some good wine, some not-so-good wine. Corndogs. Some really good jazz-funk-pop music with funny people dancing to it.

And finally the story of my much-beloved red cruiser bike: When we returned to the place where we parked our bikes, an elderly woman with her mum awaited us to explain that this was actually her bike which had been stolen from her six years ago but she definitely knew that it was hers so she had called the cops. Cool. How could she know? Well, she worked in this hair studio (right next to the parking lot) and obviously they had some bikes specially branded by one of their suppliers (“Cetrix”), which is of course an almost 100% sure certificate. (Except that there are probably tens of thousands of these bikes.) However, to remove all doubts, she added that she had read in her horoscope that she “would rediscover something that she had lost a long time ago.”

So what could I possibly do about that? Of course, I returned the bike to her, walked home, and felt good about doing the right thing that the stars expected me to do.

In fact, after I promised to send her the phone number of the girl I bought the bike from so she could do some further research about its history, she cancelled the cops—who she knew pretty well, but still they would need a really long time to arrive anyway. It almost seemed like they had more important stuff to do than arresting people accused by horoscopes.

Had some nice Mexican food and some lemonade back in Palo Alto.

Despite drinking no beer at all and getting to bed really early, ;) I almost overslept on Sunday. Probably it would have helped if I had read the emails more carefully so as to know when we would actually start, but I rather woke up randomly, having unusually early, but relaxed breakfast, to finally find out that I was in a rush. Pretty much.

Because on Sunday we went surfing. Yeah! I cruised to the meeting point like I never cruised before, arrived at 7:05 am, still had some time for a coffee at Starbucks, and then we drove down to Santa Cruz. Pretty chilly there, but also pretty cool waves.

I have to admit, the surf lessons in Portugal might have helped a little, so it worked really well. Actually, longboards are so much easier to stand on than shortboards! Riding waves—even if it’s just for a couple of seconds—is just awesome. I definitely want to do it again. For the girls, apart from the waves, our instructor Dave was an attraction of its own. :)

After the lesson, we enjoyed seafood on the Santa Cruz pier, a walk along the beach, and a screamy ride on its National Historic Monument roller coaster. Great fun, great weekend.

Rick, Thomas Jefferson, and other heroes

On Sunday, Claudia, Pablo and I went up to Sonoma, stopping at the famous Alamo Square and the Golden Gate Bridge. A really unique American with his totally American car was already celebrating 4th of July, that is, America. Well, actually he was Dutch, but that doesn’t matter.

We enjoyed winetasting at Homewood and Ledson winery, the nice town of Sonoma, Rick’s pool, and Californian strawberries. And—oh my god—the steaks! Sorry to the vegetarians out there, but this piece of meat was one pound of pure medium awesomeness.

Had a good night of sleep on the air mattress, in contrast to Pablo who slept on the comfortable couch. Poor old man ;) blamed it on his hurting back, but it might as well have been the coffee and the two Mountain Dews he had before going to sleep.

On Monday, 4th of July, America celebrated its Day of Independence. 235 years ago Congress had established the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson and four others. The exact date of the declaration being signed might be different, but that doesn’t matter.

While half the population of Sonoma went crazy in the local parade, the other half watched and enjoyed. Being unbelievably liberal, you can even drink alcohol in public on that day—as long as you stay on the square and don’t cross the street. People enjoy that, though the problem is that apparently they not only cross the street, they do it the American way: in their car. However, in Sonoma, things were fun and peaceful.

After a great weekend, we went home via Richmond Bridge, Berkeley, and Dumbarton Bridge. Unfortunately, there were no fireworks in Palo Alto, but they are pretty much the same all around the world anyway.

Spices

I love my work here, but Friday is still one of the best days of the week: After a swim in the nice Avery Aquatic Center on campus (free for students :) ), we went to Nola, a very cool bar/restaurant in downtown Palo Alto. Although it’s pretty huge, it was totally packed. It seems almost everybody you meet here works for a cool tech company, or at least does an internship at one.

On Saturday, I had a delicious, spicy pizza at Pizza My Heart. I finally got my U.S. mobile phone number working—a SIM card is not enough (I got one from Markus), you have to pay some extra activation fee. Did some relaxed work at University Café. Still the best espresso I found here so far (for just $2, including Wi-Fi), though not as good as in Italy or Portugal, of course.

Cycled to the supermarket on the other side of the town, with a little detour chatting with Manuel, just to find out they have everything except the thing I needed most importantly: body wash. It was a nice sunny Saturday, so I enjoyed cruising back to Walgreens on University Ave. Palo Alto consists mostly of villas with nice gardens around and wide, quiet streets between them. Perfect for my beach cruiser.

Walgreens didn’t have a huge selection of body wash either, but I simply had to try Old Spice anyway. See why below. ;) Actually, I didn’t like most of their products, but at least one smelled nice.

Pictures from the rest of the long weekend will follow soon.

Some geography

When I got to know that I would spend this summer here in Stanford, I think I said “yes.” Then I might have jumped around a little. And then I opened Google Maps. Because I didn’t really have a clue where it actually was. And as most people (at home) say, “yeah, Stanford, cool man—where is that actually?” I think some geography could help a little.

Below you can see a map with some points of interest (in blue) that show where I spend most of my time. You can also open it in a larger view.


View Stanford and surroundings in a larger map

You can see that Stanford is located in the south of the San Francisco Bay in California/west-coast United States, around 40 minutes from San Francisco by car or train. The campus is close to the city of Palo Alto (population around 65,000) at a latitude of 37°25′ N, which is slightly south of Lisbon, Athens, Seoul, and Springfield (I just don’t tell you which one). Its elevation is 30 feet (that’s 9.1 meters) above sea level.

The city of San Francisco (as in the political county) has a population of 800,000, whereas the whole bay area including San Jose and Oakland (which could be considered a single metropolitan area) has 7.4 million inhabitants. As a comparison, Austria has around 8.4 million.

The climate here is considered Mediterranean, with cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers. There are about 300 full or partly sunny days each year, with pleasant average daily highs around 29°C (they say 84° Fahrenheit here) in July and August. The micro-climate in the city of San Francisco is different though. Mark Twain said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” (Well, no, he didn’t.)

The region is famous for its high concentration of high-tech companies, particularly in the field of computers, which is why it’s called Silicon Valley (as computer chips are usually made of silicon). I marked some notable companies in red, but it’s just a selection of a long list. Even if you’re not dealing with computers at all, you’ll recognize a few.

If California were a country, it would be the 8th-largest economy in the world. After being reigned by both Arnold Schwarzenegger and (at least indirectly) George W. Bush (click the links! click the links!)—even at the same time—it has some financial troubles though.

Finally, here is a close-up of the campus with my daily bike route in blue:

The campus occupies an area of 33.1 square km (Graz: 127.6; inner districts I through VI: 21.3). And it’s beautiful—more on that later.

Pride

Finally some words on last weekend, which was kind of awesome. On Friday I went to a “dive bar” for the first time, together with Pablo. I don’t know where “dive” really comes from, but in general it’s a rather relaxed (if not fucked up) place where locals tend to meet and dive into the evening. I do know where its name “Nuthouse” comes from though (or at least I found out as soon as I stepped into it): nuts and their shells lying all over the place. Literally everywhere. Although it felt a little dirty, I liked this place.

On Saturday there was work to do: grading assignments for the Mathematical Optimization course in Graz and some little project I’ve been working on with Daniel and Silvia. It was for a course in Graz, but stay tuned, we’ll launch it as soon as it’s more evolved, and it will rock the world! Although the day was work-ish, I enjoyed it cruising a little around campus and sitting in the sun having awesome frozen yogurt with fresh fruits. Yummy!

The highlight by all means was Sunday though. Met Ukrainian/Ozzie girl Svetlana who I know from Stockholm. We both didn’t expect to meet again before my romantic wedding on Hawaii where I would definitely invite her and she would definitely come. She and her boyfriend Peter picked me up from the Caltrain station and we had breakfast in a very nice café somewhere I would never ever find back again. Peter has been working for Facebook and is now taking some time off to sail around the world. He drives a Porsche and lives in an awesome three-story apartment in the heart of San Francisco. I guess he’s kind of rich. Just guessing. But still very nice and relaxed.

Together we went to SF Pride, a huge lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender parade in San Francisco, which is world-famous for its strong LGBT community. Lots of nice and interesting people there, a striking feeling of freedom everywhere. A guy working for Google told me I’m cute. Sorry. (I know. :) )

The streets were pretty packed and it was hard to get a good spot for taking pictures, so sorry again, you have to come there if you want to get the real feeling of the craziness going on. Just don’t pay the 5 bucks “donation” to the SM/fetish corner—there’s no non-disgusting way it could be worth it.

Went back to Peter’s place to have salmon burgers, strawberries, and wine, accompanied by great music from Pandora. (There’s even ways to access Pandora in license-hell Europe, I think.)

Svetlana wanted to see her first baseball game, so I joined them for what would be my second one. Bought tickets on the internet and went there in a stretch limo. Business as usual. Had some beer. No, I did not pay 10 bucks for a single beer, seriously. Seriously. The Giants won. Awesome weekend.