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.

Corporate America

My first week in office here is over. And I liked it! As mentioned earlier, I was mainly working on a plan for what exactly to address this summer. We discussed it today and we’re all thrilled about the results that will hopefully be available in three months. It will certainly involve a lot of work, from reading papers to elaborate on methodology via programming code to calculate and visualize results to interpreting and presenting them. It will all be about “social aspects in ontology engineering” focussed on the development of ICD 11. I’ll tell you more when I have some noteworthy results. ;)

Office starts at 10am here, which suits me very well. When I showed up at 9am on Monday Gabrielle just said, “usually nobody’s here before 10, they’re all researchers, you know.” :) Of course, they might stay in office pretty late on the other hand.

People here are really nice. Particularly I’m in touch with Pablo (from Spain), who is also a visiting researcher here, and Tania (from Romania), who is a post-doc working on iCAT (the “Collaborative Authoring Tool” for ICD).

People are nice at least as long as you do your stuff right. No worries, I didn’t get into any troubles at all. But I witnessed a dialogue in an office next to me which reminded me a little bit of How I Met Your Mother’s “Chain of Screaming.” Well, it wasn’t really screaming of course, but someone told someone else very clearly what he thinks of the work the other did. And actually I liked it. I mean it wasn’t mean, it was just direct and very explicit. And even if it was mostly about details (“why is there no caption below this figure?”) it’s good to know that somebody actually cares about those details. However, in the end I heard them laughing again, so no big deal.

Today was not only nice because of the productive meeting but also because there was the department’s annual barbecue right afterwards. Free burgers and everything for everybody! :) It was located in a beautiful spot in Sculpture Garden. Weather was perfect as usual.

WordPress photo quality

I just noticed that WordPress kind of messes up my photos. It apparently drops the color space information (which would be AdobeRGB in my case), but OK, I shouldn’t upload them in AdobeRGB anyway, I guess. I mean I don’t even expect WordPress to convert my pictures to sRGB automatically (which would be most suitable for most viewers), but it could at least leave the color space information in place when producing thumbnails.

The other issue is that WordPress seems to use such strong compression or such a bad downsizing algorithm that images are getting pretty blurry. So I’ll export my photos in already-downsized sRGB next time to try if that helps. No more convenient direct upload of Aperture preview images… :(

Baseball

Thanks to Rick I got two premier tickets for what was going to be my first baseball game: SF Giants vs. Minnesota Twins. Took the totally crowded Caltrain up to San Fran. Funnily enough, this ride to the stadium is one of the only places where drinking alcohol in public is allowed in the United States. Guess it would be political suicide to refuse the fans getting drunk on their way to the game. And it actually makes sense to drink on the train, as beer in the stadium costs 10 bucks! But even small hot dogs (ironically called Giants dogs) that IKEA would sell for 50 cents cost 5 dollars there. However, being a brave Styrian guy in an unknown place I brought an apple, of course. :)

One of the guys next to my seat welcomed me with the words, “Welcome to the massacre!” I was only a few minutes late because of the crowds in front of the stadium, but the Giants were already behind 8 runs after the first inning. Not good, but I could care more (such as the people all around me).

Before that day I had no glue about baseball at all, but thanks to explanations from Markus and Wikipedia I think I understood most of what was happening. So here the basics: A game consists of 9 innings (rounds), in each of them both teams “attack” and “defend” once, each (called batting/hitting and fielding/pitching in baseball language). The batting team initially has only one player on the field (the batter, the guy with the baseball bat). The pitcher begins by throwing the ball towards batter and catcher. If he doesn’t hit a specific virtual area (basically throwing it too far away from the batter’s bat), the ball is called a “ball.” Makes sense, doesn’t it?

The batter tries to hit the ball with his bat. If he fails to do so, the ball is called a “strike”. Three strikes and he the batter striked out. But if he hits the ball, he throws away his bat and starts running towards the first of three bases (the other corners of the square they’re playing on). The defending team now tries to catch the ball and pass it to a defender at the base the batter is approaching. If a defender in possession of the ball touches the batter, the latter is “tagged” out. Otherwise he stays at the base he has reached and a new batter comes into play. There are lots and lots of other rules, but basically the batters try to advance from base to base until they reach the home plate again, which is called a homerun and gives 1 point (“run”). Actually this doesn’t happen too often. Long story short, 8 runs in one inning is a lot. A massacre.

Some people consider baseball one of the most boring sports on earth—as one guy on the train put it, “the only sport (maybe apart from golf) where you can eat a sandwich while playing it.” (And he was even a fan of it!) Maybe that’s one of the reasons it became America’s “national pastime.” ;) Anyway, I really enjoyed the game. Especially as there’s so much going on in the stadium apart from the actual game: pizza being thrown into the crowd, the smell of nachos and beer (did I mention it’s 10 dollars?), old dancing popcorn traders, best facial hair awards (see my personal hero), kiss cam… and the stadium itself is nice too, particularly the walk on the promenade towards the bay. Unfortunately, I ran out of battery, so the selection of photos was rather limited.

In the end—not very surprisingly—the Giants lost 9-2. Still an interesting experience.

Moving in

After having dinner with Gerald, who ordered tons of sweet potato fries, I moved in to my new apartment on Comstock Circle. Unfortunately, it’s not as cozy as the place before, mainly because it’s just a single-floor bungalow as opposed to the two-floor apartment. But there’s still a lot of space, it’s nice and clean, and the location is still right next to the campus. Met my flatmate for the next month, Kyle. At 9pm, I already was so tired I fell asleep immediately.

Thanks to the jetlag, I woke up at 6am. Bought an awesome red cruiser bike for $75 second-hand. Went to The Cardinal Bike Shop to get some air for its tires. The very nice, huge, heavy-metal wrestler/teddy bear inside gave it a complete service (fixed the brakes, put oil on the chain, tightened all screws etc)—for free! While doing that, he yelled at somebody who wanted him to repair a motorized bike which he obviously hates. :) Had breakfast at Starbucks and bought a 12-taco party box at Taco Bell for my bike-repair hero.

In the afternoon, went to San Francisco with Claudia to meet Markus and Pia to have lunch and tea at Samovar Tea Lounge, nicely located next to a small park inbetween skyscrapers. After a walk to Union Square, went to Twin Peaks by car while the fog conquered the city. Didn’t see anything anymore when we were on top. Moved back to Stanford and lost myself shopping groceries at Safeway. Talked the very nice but apparently stoned cashier into believing that my driving license was actually a passport to buy some beer.