Three years at Wolfram

It’s unbelievable that it’s already more than three years since I’ve joined Wolfram. I’ve been working on the Wolfram Cloud, an effort to bring the power of Mathematica and the Wolfram Language into the web. I mainly worked on the in-browser notebook interface—a huge, but exciting challenge. I created a browser-based code editor, dealt a lot with typesetting, and designed and implemented an extensive model of “boxes” in JavaScript.

Perhaps I wouldn’t have thought so four years ago, but JavaScript is actually a really fun language to work with, and it’s an exciting time to do web development. The JS ecosystem has been growing dramatically over the last years, and the language itself is maturing, too.

I introduced nice tools like React and Webpack into the project, and I migrated everything (from—can you believe it?—CVS) to Git.

A really nice aspect of working at Wolfram is the great flexibility it offers, especially geographically: After two years in Champaign (which gets quite small after a while), I started to work remotely and moved to Chicago where I spent a little more than a year. It’s really a fantastic city (modulo winters)!

But the U.S. was never meant to be the “final destination”, so now I’m on my way back to home to good ol’ Austria, just with a little detour: For a few months, I’m exploring more of the Americas. After one month on the U.S. West Coast and one month in Central America, I just arrived in Buenos Aires. Check out longwayhome.poeschko.com dedicated to that long trip back home.

New challenges

Life has been pretty busy recently. I worked on my Google Summer of Code project implementing lattices in Sage; I continued working on several optimization projects, mostly dealing with the charging of multiple electric vehicles (in cooperation with FH Joanneum Kapfenberg and other companies); I took my last exams and finished my master’s thesis (“Optimization of a Purlin Punching Process”). I’m glad (and a little proud) that all of this worked out so well.

Adding to that, I organized my move to the U.S., where I finally landed and already began working for Wolfram Research. I am working as a Kernel Developer on Mathematica Online (or whatever it will be called once it gets released to the public). This is quite related to my previous work on Mathics.

Now, the sad news is that I have to stop actively coding on Mathics as a consequence. However, I see it in really good hands with Angus having already taken the lead recently, and he will certainly continue to keep Mathics flourish. Others are jumping in as well, so Mathics will not disappear, but grow further. Of course, I will still be there when assistance is needed, to merge in pull requests, and to keep the server running.

I’m really excited about the new challenges. I’ll share some of my experience on a special (rather personal) blog Go West, Young Jan. It’s in German so I don’t forget my mother’s tongue completely.

Let the adventure begin.

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.

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).

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!

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.