The last month

Time accelerates exponentially, it seems. I had three more weeks on campus before my sublease ended and I moved to Rick in Sonoma for another week, and it all went by so fast. I was mostly working on our JBI paper, but also enjoyed the sun and more steaks.

Eventually, people arrived on campus. Had some very funny evenings with a couple of new grad students, introduced them to the Austrian way of Åviechan. :) Thanks for your couch, Jonny!

On my last weekend, I went twice to the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, a free three-day festival in Golden Gate Park in the heart of San Francisco. So many funny, crazy people there! It seems that for some Californians, the 60s never ended. :) I particularly enjoyed the performance of Buckethead on Saturday, a rather non-bluegrassy mixture of jazz and hard rock—and yes, he really wears a bucket on his head while playing his various guitars.

I sold my bike—will miss you so much, dear blue beach cruiser! And when I left on Monday, something happened that hasn’t happened for a few months: It started raining.

Now all that’s left to say is, it’s been an awesome summer, goodbye, thanks for reading, and hope to see you soon! I’ll be back.

L.A. and San Diego

Fourth of September was Labor Day, so we (Pablo, Katja, Rossana, me) decided to use the long weekend and go to Los Angeles and San Diego. No trains in the U.S., so we took a flight to Long Beach and rented a car there. Spent some time at Venice Beach, where a lot of funny people do all sorts of funny things. Cruised around in Beverly Hills to finally reach our domicile for the night, the Budget Inn—it’s name says pretty much all about how it looked from outside. The room was okay though.

We didn’t stay long there, anyway. L.A. nightlife, here we come! I still don’t know whether the cab driver brought us to the club we actually wanted to go to, but it seemed he knew a lot about party, so we trusted him. The music there was better than I had expected. At one point, they forced people off the stage and did some photo and video shooting. No idea what exactly was going on or whom the fuzz was all about, but it must’ve been some sort of celebrity.

Oh, did I say “nightlife”? In fact, all bars, clubs, etc have to close at 2:00, so there’s no risk of having fun the whole night. Supermarkets and copy shops are still open at that time though.

After a yummy and way too big breakfast on Sunday, we made a short stop in Hollywood and continued driving to San Diego. This might seem surprising, but the Bristol was a little nicer than the Budget Inn.

Is it a sign of getting older when shopping Banana Republic (what a great name!) while others go to Forever 21? I hope not. At least I found a nice shirt there.

We went to Balboa Park and Coronado Island. Had the first few minutes of rain since I don’t know when. Nevertheless, had a great, relaxed time.

On Tuesday, we slowly made our way back to Los Angeles Airport, stopping at a few beaches to enjoy the sun. Eventually we returned the car and flew back. Nice trip.

Extreme Geeky Tidying Up: Sorting image colors with Python and Hilbert curves

There are levels of tidiness.

Tidy.
Very Tidy.
Totally Deranged Tidy.

Geeky Tidy.

After sharing these awesome pictures by the Swiss “artist” Ursus Wehrli with the world, Martin N. pointed out that there is still a severe issue with the Badewiese: People are not even sorted by the colors of their swimsuits! Adding to that, trees are placed in total chaos, not to speak of their leaves; clearly, there are tiny waves on the water; and one can almost see blades of grass not being sorted by size. Obviously, this picture needed further tidying up.


© Ursus Wehrli

Python to the rescue! 5 minutes, 10 lines, and half a beer later I had a program that would load the image, re-arrange its pixels, and save it again:

from PIL import Image

old = Image.open("tidy.jpg")
colors = old.getcolors(old.size[0] * old.size[1])
data = []
for count, color in colors:
    data.extend(count * [color])
data.sort()
new = Image.new('RGB', old.size)
new.putdata(data)
new.save("naive_tidy.png")

This yields the following picture:

So how was this “re-arrangement” performed? In a naïve approach, I just sorted the RGB values of the pixels, which is why there are many consecutive lines (of equal reds) with abrupt changes. Ordered, but far from being tidy.

Let’s try another color space and sort by HSV values—a smooth hue should look better, after all. So by adding

import colorsys

and changing one line to

data.sort(key=lambda rgb: colorsys.rgb_to_hsv(*rgb))

we get the following image:

More beautiful, but the red and white noise in the end doesn’t look tidy at all. We want a smooth transition through all given colors. Hilbert curves to the rescue! Found a ready-to-be-used Hilbert walk implementation, added

import hilbert

and changed the sorting once again to

data.sort(key=hilbert.Hilbert_to_int)

to get this image:

Mathematical computer science just made the world a little tidier.

To the North

After renting an awesome car—a black Hyundai Santa Fe—that would be big enough to let us sleep in it, Johanna and I continued our trip to the north. Again, we spent one night at one of Rick’s friends. This time it was Betsy in Chico, where we had actually already been two years ago. Still remember the huge steaks we got from the huge grill back then.

After that, we spent one night in Lassen Volcanic National Park. After a winter with over seven meters of snow at some places, they still have quite a lot of snow in the middle of summer! We hiked up above 3000 meters towards Lassen Peak, and we saw Bumpass Hell, a stinking but beautiful collection of mud pots and volcanic hot pools.

We continued our trip to the nice campground in McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park and finally reached Lava Beds National Monument. Ages ago, huge streams of lava had created tube caves, when their top cooled and crusted while the inner part kept flowing.

Our companions on the road, among others: Johnny Cash (US), Pink Floyd, Muse (UK), Kruder & Dorfmeister (AT). And the Lowrider, of course.

Endless roads through forests. Desert. Lakes. Campfires. Togetherness. Happiness! :)

To the South

In the second week that Johanna was here, we took Rick’s car and went south. We made a quick stop in Monterey to stay at his friend Seth for one night. Love the uncomplicated way they arrange a place to sleep.

Seth is a really nice guy from the east coast, and he never “slowed down” to the Californian way of speaking—or maybe even living? We had great seafood right at the bay, and he introduced me to his collection of bluegrass music. Will eventually be handy when I maybe go to the big bluegrass festival at the end of September. Oh, and Seth’s house is pretty awesome as well!

We continued our trip on Highway 1 along the beautiful Pacific coast of California to finally reach San Luis Obispo, where Sandy, another friend of Rick, awaited us. Had a great time there, going to Santa Barbara, to the beach, and to the world-famous weekly San Luis Obispo Farmers Market. That tri-tip there was definitely worth the 30-minute queue!

And if you ever happen to be in San Luis Obispo, check out Novo—their tapas are simply great. If you don’t appreciate very spicy food though (Johanna rather doesn’t), just don’t try the chili peppers that come along, they are red and hot! (By the way, did I already mention I recently got tickets for this concert?)

I’ll probably not soon forget being locked in the bathroom for about an hour until the locksmith came to release me. :)

After very nice days with very nice people we returned back to Palo Alto to rent a car, pick up Rick and Heli from the airport, and continue our trip northwards. But more on that later.

If you want to know the details, here is our exact route.

Rock and Roll

Lucky Johanna and I had tickets for the sold-out Outside Lands festival in the San Francisco Golden Gate Park last Saturday. :) PARC intern Ashok joined and drove us. We couldn’t almost believe it when we found a parking lot right next to the park. Ford bless America.

When we came there at around noon, it didn’t seem like there would be 60,000 people all over the place pretty soon; only a few people in front of the stage and almost no one elsewhere. We had delicious mac & cheese and burritos—typical Californian food—and Heineken—typical Dutch Piss. By the way, the smell in the air all around the festival area also reminded me of Amsterdam. ;)

The music started with a horrible performance of some hip hoppers that didn’t know how to sing or even speak, but continued with cool, funky jazz by The Greyboy Allstars. Then OK Go (see one of their unique videos below), Arcade Fire, and The Black Keys (a pretty cool Ohioan band I hadn’t known before) rocked the stage.

Right on (very American) time at 8:15 the best live band in the world started playing: Muse!

Heavy rock fading into symphonic compositions with classical piano sounds supported by stunning visuals, artificial fog, and lasers—this show had everything. Not only did they play great songs (of which they have plenty, much more than would fit into a single set), their show felt like a well-planned whole, which I appreciate a lot.

Unsurprisingly, they played many songs from their new album “The Resistance”, but they did include sufficiently enough older works as well, even not-so-mainstream-popular ones. And how cool is it to play a few chords of the “House of the Rising Sun” between “Time Is Running Out” and “Starlight”?

Here is Muse propagating the “United States of Eurasia” with very nice visuals in the background:

And here they perform their probably most popular song “Starlight”:

You can also see the complete setlist.

Apart from the music, I was amazed by the fact that there wasn’t even the slightest traffic jam after the festival and all the people went home (mostly by car).

Death and reincarnation of some bitten fruit

Usually, when I turn on my computer, I don’t spend a second thinking about whether it will actually turn on. From now on I probably will.

I just wanted to resume from sleep (which is the usual mode of non-operation for it), but the screen remained black and nothing happened. That’s not totally unusual, as sometimes something in the computer decides it doesn’t want to wake up, in which case you have to turn it off and on again. That’s what I did, but in this unique case, it still remained black. The front light was on and their was some noise from the fan, but nothing more. No Mac startup sound, which I never particularly liked, but in this case would have loved to hear.

Letting it rest for a while, removing the battery, resetting the PRAM, switching RAM modules, nothing helped. Finally, I made an appointment with the Apple Genius Bar, conveniently located a few blocks away in the Stanford Shopping Center.

After a few experiments by my nice “genius,” he told me it would be $310 to have my notebook (a mid-2008 15″ MacBook Pro 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 4 GB RAM running Leopard, by the way) repaired. Not too cheap, but I would have paid anything to be able to work on my stuff again. Luckily though, the guy continued his research and finally told me the repair would be free—even though warranty had expired about two years ago!

Apparently, it was another case of this well-known graphics issue. Actually, I had occasionally noticed some of the described symptoms and was aware of this issue, I just had not thought that it could also cause the computer not to start up at all.

Even better, the guy told me I could probably get my computer back in one or two days—which would have been a Sunday, amazingly enough. And I would not have to worry about my data, the hard drive was safe.

As if that had not been good enough, they called me on the same day at 6.30 pm that my computer was ready for pickup! (I had been in the store at 10.45 am before.) I got there at around 8 pm (yes, my Austrian friends, they’re still open at that time, usually even on Sundays!) and got back my ready-to-rock shiny-new MacBook again. Apparently, they had even polished it.

One could argue that this problem shouldn’t have occurred in the first place, but still, well done, Apple, awesome support! Even if I had concerns about Apple’s policy recently (and not only recently), right now, I love you again.

Had some good steaks to celebrate this quick reincarnation.

Hiking Yosemite

After a small Friday student party on campus with burning benches and free drinks for everyone, which was eventually stopped by campus security, we set off really early for Yosemite on Saturday (two weeks ago). “We” as in Pablo, Katja & Debora (two of his English course classmates), me, and Rick’s car.

Four hours of driving and two Mountain Dews later we arrived in the park to pick up our Wilderness Permit and bear canister. Together with camp gear we had rented from REI, we were ready to rock.

We started the hike from the trailhead “Mirror Lake towards Snow Creek” a little later than planned, and it also didn’t help that nobody told us that the original path had been destroyed by a rock slide. So after getting lost a little, we crossed the creek (it’s always deeper than it seems!) and found the trail again.

Finally, the real part of the hike started: a pretty steep elevation change of about 800 meters. You can have a look at the trail map if you’re interested. Even if it doesn’t seem too long, it’s pretty exhausting with a backpack carrying a tent, sleeping bags, food, etc, and even more exhausting with two—because after a while, the girls obviously couldn’t carry theirs anymore. But the views were definitely worth it, even though there wasn’t really time (and especially energy) to take pictures.

We somehow understood why this was called the most strenuous hike in Yosemite by some people, and it made sense that this was one of the few ones where Wilderness Permits had still been available. On the whole hike up, we met not much more than three people. The other 100,000 seemed to prefer staying in the valley.

In the end, we were really happy to arrive at the rim of High Sierra, where we found a very nice place to put up our tent, with a ready-to-use fire ring. Italian Dry Salami tastes even better after being carried with about 25 kg of other stuff for six hours! And, believe it or not, we even had two tiny bottles of wine to celebrate our success.

As it became dark very quickly, I made good use of my newly purchased Black Diamond 75 lumens headlamp.

When camping in Yosemite, you have to store all your food, sunscreen, soap, etc, in a special bear canister, which we hid under some branches. Interestingly enough, it was in a different spot on the next morning. Apparently a bear played around with it during the night, although we didn’t see or hear anything. But who or what else could it have been?!

The hike down on Sunday was twice as fast as the way up, as expected. This time a thunderstorm provided the little adventure factor.

After taking a freezing and therefore rather quick bath in Merced River, we started our drive home. Stopped in Oakdale for some juicy Jack-in-the-Box burgers.

Really tired, but filled with nice impressions and good air, I fell into my bed.

Play

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!