Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Photos from trip

Finally got the photos up on Picasa:


Friday, December 19, 2008

Happy Birthday To Me (or: Go West, Old Man!)

Happy Birthday in the local time zone happy birthday to me.

I get a thirty-hour birthday this year, thanks to flying West across six time zones starting at 10:30 local time (2:30 AM eastern USA time).

Monday, December 15, 2008

More blogging on Venice flooding

As I said before, Venice was flooded (again) in the morning, so we took a train out about 4 hours earlier than we had planned. I'm not terribly surprised, but CNN did a pretty bad job of explaining what was going on - this website gives context to the information I linked to before. I'm writing this on the train to Venice, because I actually downloaded this in the hotel room but didn't realize what I've downloaded:

Centro Maree forecasts the level day by day, summarized by tables and graphs. Here is how to read them:

* if the water level in St.Mark's basin is 65-68 cms., expect to find some water on the ground in front of St.Marks' church entrance. Important: do not think you'll see water 65 cms. high in St.Mark's square: this measure refers to the sea level.
* if the level is up to 85, expect some big puddles in St.Mark's square and in some "calli" (streets) in Venice. The middle area of St.Mark's square will be dry, as it is not perfectly flat. Wear water-proof boots!
* at 90 cms., St.Mark's square will be a lake of salty water. Some vaporettos (public boats) routes will be cancelled and alternative routes will be used. This is because they won't be able to pass under some bridges. Quite a confusion at boat stops. Lower areas in Venice can be accessed via special "walkways"
* at 110 cms, you'll hear sirens: this informs population to get ready. Most shops and warehouse at ground floors are likely to be flooded.
* from 120 cms to 140 cms, Venetians will get worried. Important: again, do not think you'll see water 120 cms. high all around in the streets: this measure refers to the sea level. Acqua alta can result in a 50 cms. water in the streets: which is not little anyway.

The point is that there is a "tide" in Venice that is about a third "regular old lunar" tide, half atmospheric effects, and some grab bag other issues like how much Antarctica's been melting this week. While we were there, the composition of the various sine waves meant that the tide was lowest at dinnertime.

If we read that chart backwards into the past (I couldn't find a "recent history of water levels" when I looked) then we get this story: when Rachel arrived at about 10:30, the water was near it's "second peak," about 100 cm - the high air pressure probably kept it lower the first day than it might otherwise have been. While she waited for me to show up in the train station, it peaked at 110/120 cm and then started going down. This, practically, meant that the plaza in front of the hotel and train station had one spot about a foot or so underwater, and that St. Mark's square was probably a foot underwater, maybe a bit more. The water went down about a foot while Rachel napped off some jet lag and by the time we took the "slow bus" (vaporetto) to St. Mark's square the square was above water, barely, and it kept getting lower while we were inside the chapel up until dinnertime. The air pressure then dropped in the evening and overnight, and that goofy siren about 8 AM was when the water passed 110cm again. When we went to get a train at 11, the water in front of the train station/hotel was back where it had been when I arrived the day before, or maybe an inch higher.

Now we're in Florence!
Venice was just a little flooded when we got there, and got increasingly less flooded over the course of last night, so while all the streets were pretty wet, we were able to wander through the city without going through puddles. Rachel believes that we are spoiled by good mozzarella cheese in America because mozzarella cheese doesn't taste much different here.

iPhoto is acting up and I'm having trouble uploading pictures as a result. Slept late this morning, but I today it's flooded again. Found this which is interesting.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Crazy Pills

There's something sublime about having a conversation where it is totally clear that you and someone else both think the other one is crazy. I walk into the music store that sells some electronics, maybe they have an adapter so I can plug my MacBook into the Italian output using either my American or Central European plug. The European plugs are slightly closer together and fatter, but they look superficially the same. The Mac World adapter set comes with both, and I picked up the wrong one. A lot of people at the conference have the same problem - the university only has Italian sockets, and lots of Europeans didn't realize they needed something different. Understandable.

"Que parle Englese?" (I ask in awful Italian)
"Si. Yes." (I should have noticed she did not, in fact, speak English with an Italian accent, so is probably here from somewhere else herself.)
"I need an adapter" (shows the business end of a MacBook power supply - E.U. style) "because this is European."
"Um... Italy is in Europe. That is an Italian plug."

It's not, for the record. I bought a universal American/European to Italian adapter in the Rome airport but left it stuck in the plug (arg).

"It doesn't fit in my hotel..."
"That's a problem with your hotel."

Well, sure. Most real hotels and tourist places use a compatible socket that works for both European and Italian plugs, but I'm staying in a dorm and hanging out at a university, which are not overtly tourist-friendly. So technically she's right, but clearly she has no clue what's going on. I try a different strategy:

"Okay. Are there American adapters?"
"Not within the city, maybe outside."
"Okay, thanks."

Then I walk down another block, find an electronics store, and buy a two-euro European to Italian adapter. I debated going back in and correcting her, but my inner don't-be-annoying censor won out.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

To Udine (or: Validate your Tickets and Hotels) (or: Expensive Mistakes)

I tried to collect thoughts before in the Rome airport, but those darn thoughts were not collecting. I will try to do so now.

Pittsburgh to Atlanta
The sun "rose" as a result of our taking off, which was pretty wicked - it was clearly dusk when we lifted off and then the sun was glaring in my eyes, and after a second I realized it was because we were going up. This is really cool if you can pull it off.

If you're flying to your home city, a seven hour layover is really preferable to a shorter layover because you can meet your family, actually leave the airport in an unhurried manner, and maybe have a meal. I went to church and then lunch with my family, and visited with the pastor (Dad's former assistant pastor and a family friend) and my AP Government teacher. Both Ms. Chambers and I can't go to the inauguration - me because I have a conference in Savannah that day, her because her oldest daughter (who I was in youth group with, eeps) is due to have a baby girl eight days later. She mentioned that her husband had gone to a wedding but she had stayed home because of the pregnancy. I resisted the temptation to mention Sarah Palin.

Atlanta to Rome
In Pittsburgh I got window exit seats on both of the Delta flights, which was good. There was a really big guy in the aisle seat next to me on the flight from Hartsfield-Jackson to Rome - he could put on a seatbelt without the seatbelt extender, but it was clearly uncomfortable for him to do so (you can't use a seatbelt extender and sit in an exit row - which is airlinespeak for "no fat people blocking the exits"). At first I was like "oh, crap, big guy," and it probably would have been uncomfortable if it hadn't been an exit row, but it was actually fine. I clearly amused one flight attendant because I was asleep two times they went by for food and it took me about thirty seconds to get my bearings and speak coherently about what I wanted or didn't want to eat/drink both times.

Had to go through security inside the airport (never understood why that worked like that). Had water in my red metal water bottle. Was told to go downstairs to pour it out and then "go through security, not line." Didn't really understand how that would work without getting yelled at at minimum, so I threw away the water bottle. Quickly realized I should have just chugged the contents, since, you know, I can drink a half quart of water if I need to.

Rome cannot decide what to call their airport, which leads to the impression they have like three airports.

Rome to Venice
This was the flight that somewhat goofy Alitalia decided to cancel and so Delta re-arranged for a later flight. Slept the whole time - woke up to pop my ears and as we were landing - the view landing in Venice on a clear day is pretty awesome, though.

Venice to Udine
The cancelled/rebooked flight meant that I lost the ticket I'd bought from Venice Mestre Station to Udine, however, after I bought the first ticket the conference organizers mentioned that taking local rail was the easiest way to do things anyway. Commuter rail has been a significant part of my life in two places - New Jersey and Bangalore. In New Jersey, you would never think to get a ticket in advance - NJ Transit is a walk up, buy your ticket, be on your way kind of deal. In Bangalore, even traveling similar distances you would never imagine not buying your ticket in advance, because the trains were usually full and because you didn't want to deal with the ticket window person who spoke a different language, and because you needed to always work under the assumption that Indians were generally benevolent but always trying to rip you off in order to simultaneously retain control of your credit cards and your sanity.

Italy is much more a New Jersey type deal - they had machines which talked English to me and sold me second class tickets to Udine on the next available Trenitalia train. Thank heavens that worked, because, Trenitalia and my credit cards had a brief falling out two weeks ago when I first tried to reserve tickets, but they appear to have made amends since.

So, I lost the equivalent of a $40 Amtrack ticket from Philadelphia to NYC and got a $10 NJ Transit ticket instead. Unfortuantely, I then got hit with a 50 euro fine because I didn't validate my ticket. Rick Steves tells me that there was a yellow box near the platform where I was supposed to do this - I guess I will have to look for where said yellow box is in Udine. Also, apparently if I had sought out the conductor immediately I could have potentially avoided the fine. So, this is a damned expensive trip to Udine.

I was planning to stay in the CISM dorms, but when I got to the place where the map said CISM was, it was dark and locked, so I was in Udine with, apparently, no hotel. Assuming the conference organizers actually reserved me a room at CISM as they claim they did, I'll probably still have to pay for the room I had reserved tonight, but I'm in a different place. And the internet doesn't work, of course, though there is supposed to be both wired and wireless the latter doesn't work my mac and the former just doesn't work at all so I won't be able to post this tonight - so that's great.

I'm pretty frustrated. Tomorrow better go better.

(Update from the future: tomorrow did go better! And we got the Best Student Paper award. I wasn't able to post this before because I didn't have internet access, but that's a rant for a different place.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hveragerði, Abbreviated

I woke up Tuesday to learn that my boots were gone. I left them in the dormitory (Hotel Domus) all day monday and didn't especially glance at them more than once or twice. When I went to pick them up today they were not the same boots - a pair of size 9 sneakers had been left in place of a pair of nice size 10 boots.

So, instead of all day hiking around Hveragerði, I went to Hveragerði for about four hours - leaving a bit later and coming back a bit earlier - and still got to see most of the interesting sights. Now I'm back in Reykjavik and thinking about going to bed early...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Hike 6 - Reykjavik Parks & Gardens

So much for taking it easy today. It didn't feel like quite so far because my foot didn't hurt. Somewhere along the line my boots started aggravating the Achilles tendon (I think) of my left foot, so that it hurt to take a step. I've been walking through it for days, but today, despite walking seven miles, was a "break" in that I haven't put on my boots today. I went by Hotel Fron where my duffel is living and switched out my Crocs for a pair of actual shoes - not seven-mile-hiking shoes, perhaps, but it did the trick. My feet are tired but my heel feels better.

Tomorrow I go to Hveragerði and actually attempt to walk around in boots with a pack, which may or may not go well. However, there's plenty close to the city so I won't be disappointed even if I can't walk quite as much as I might want to (note that "as far as I might want to" is pretty relative here - obviously I walked eight miles or so in Vík).

Side note: I cannot seem to remember how to pronounce Hveragerði. Part of this is because the pronunciation is weird, but a lot of it is that the tour guide for our Golden Circle tour explained that it meant "steam garden," which resulted in me filing away the town under "steam garden" and never needing to have some rough notion of how it was pronounced in order to remember the place.

Hike 4 & 5: Vík and West of Vík

Google Maps doesn't give me enough resolution to chart the probably 3-4 mile hike that I did on Sunday, wandering about Vik from the bus stop to the black sand beach to the hostel, to the church, the cemetery and then through some fields that were more 4-wheeler friendly than hiker-friendly back to the hostel.

Hike 5 is was incredible - the hike pedometer says 7.75 miles - I think if I could see the route better it would be closer to 8. I hiked up out of the glacial valley Vik is in into... well, basically into a cloud, which was depressing - that cloud wasn't there when I started! However, right as I got to Mile 3 the cloud ceiling lifted and I got this dramatic view off the end of the cliff to the ocean, and I could also see the area west of the plateau - the next glacial valley over - and I decided to check it out. Walked off of the plateau to an unnamed town that didn't have the good fortune of being on the Ring Road, but was otherwise apparently similar to Vik. There was a really neat cave-like thing by the ocean, and I met a Swiss tourist whose parents had gotten married in the cave.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

In Vík

It is nice, but very wet. I walked around for about two hours on the beaches and through the glacial valley uphill from the city and took some great pictures and met a couple of German tourists.

And wireless is seriously in existence everywhere.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Clouds and oceans

I'm at the Reykjavik Hostel and am a member of Hosteling International. I'll be back here Tuesday night, tomorrow night I'll be staying at the hostel in Vík, and Sunday and Monday I believe I'll be in the Skógar hostel, though this is not yet certain I'll either stay in Skógar on Sunday or (this is more likely) return to Reykjavik on Sunday night so that I can go on another overnight trip Monday-Tuesday. This is good from a blogging perspective, as I don't expect to necessarily be able to get convenient access to the 'tubes in Vík.

Now that the conference is over and I'm free it has become rainy for the first time since my arrival in Iceland. Oh well.


I gave my talk today. It went reasonably well! No hiking to report today, though I did go to a bar called Boston. Alas, no Sam Adams.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hike 3: Straight to RU

Also, I walked to the conference on Wednesday, attempting to take the shortest path instead of the longest, as usually appears to be my goal, I know. Just for kicks, here it is.

Conference photos

I'm told that there are a bunch of official conference photos. If you find me in any of them, let me know!

Golden Circle Tour

Yesterday was a bad day to forget my camera. It was the day of ICALP's Golden Circle Tour, a six-hour driving tour around the countryside near Reykjavik. However, Wikipedia has pictures of everything.

First, we went to a volcanic crater - a very regular crater formed by a volcano's top collapsing into its emptying magma crater.

Second, we went to see Geysir (the geyser geysers are named after) and Strokkur, which are in the same place.

Third, we went to see Gullfoss, an amazing waterfall. At one point there was this magnificent effect where the persistent rainbow appeared to be a few feet in front of me to the left and to be out over the falls to the right - I had the distinct impression of finding the end of the rainbow.

Finally, we went to Þingvellir (read: thingveller) where the tour guides claimed, tectonically speaking, that you could put "one foot in America and one in Europe." Obviously this is crap, such a phenomena being impossible to specify that precisely, but it was a cute thought, and it was interesting to see the site of the Alþingi (read: all thing or al thing), one of the oldest parliaments in the world.

When we got back I rehearsed my presentation a bit, but I got frustrated and so I took a walk down the hill to the north shore to clear my head. I give the talk at 3 PM GMT. Wish me luck! Tonight we go to Perlan, which I hiked around on Monday.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Hike 2: North Shore

Went on an even longer hike tonight. It went till 11. Sky was still blue. This place is crazy.

Tried to find the Botanical Gardens but (recurring theme alert) zigged where I should have zagged and ended up wandering through a commercial district. However, when I got roughly back on track I found what seemed to be an Olympic village (about mile 1.75), a neat sculpture garden (about mile 1.8), and a Subway (mile 2.5). I remembered my sister's story about going to the Subway in Grenoble because it was the only place with turkey, and stopped to enjoy a turkey sandwich. The Reykjavik hostel is at mile 3 on this hike - I now have some clue what I'm doing after Friday, which is positive. Then I walked the entirety of the north shore of "downtown" Reykjavik, which is gorgeous around 10:30 at night.

Liquid (gas, currency, and water)

Two quick train of consciousness issues, as I'm really not all that interested in the financial situation of EATCS.

I was stunned when I saw that diesel was 192 ISK (Iceland kronur) - I had the rough translation in my head of 75 ISK to 1 USD, and that meant diesel was under $3. Then I remembered I was outside of America, where liquid is measured in liters. Some quick Google conversions say that this translates to about $9.50 a gallon. Of course, Diet Coke is about $2.25 per liter, so that's a similar scale of price increases. The ISK has fallen in value against dollars and euros, a good bit in the last year, so that's good (for me). They just mentioned this fact in the business meeting, actually.

Taking a hot shower smells like hell - literally. Brimstone. Everything in Iceland is either permafrost or volcano or somewhere in between, and Reykjavik is somewhere in between, so if you drill down a bit you get volcano. If you pump water down to volcano and then pump it back up, you get plentiful, environmentally friendly, egg-smelling hot water. I was worried that the water would taste like sulphur too, which kept me away from the tap for a day or two, but that water tastes fine (great, actually), so either they have parallel systems or they keep the hot and cold water apart well.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Hike 1: Perlin South

Took a bit of a hike today - the long way back to the hotel from the university where the conference is being held. This is the route. I'm certain it was more than 5 miles when you take into account me getting lost south of Perlin, the flower-shaped thing around mile 2 - it's a tourist trap built on top of some water tanks built on top of a hill overlooking the (not international) airport. Around mile 1 I went through a cemetery that was unusual in that many of the fairly recent headstones were wooden - I took pictures but I'll upload them
Perhaps it was inevitable that Iceland would end up contrasted to India, or perhaps it only became inevitable when I decided to write an entry or two about it here. However, there are a lot of contrasts between the two that go beyond even my reply to a Facebook thread between some fellow India alumni.
Reykjavik is like Bangalore but about 30 degrees cooler and without the indian people and the pollution and for the most part the traffic and it's at sea level and the colors are kind of de-saturated instead of over-saturated and the rocks are jagged and volcanic instead of worn down by millennia of staying in the same place. Okay, it's like Bangalore in that I'm writing about it in my Bangalore blog, but otherwise it's totally different but still kind of awesome but I'm still kind of a little bit cold.
One of the ones I was thinking about this morning was the isolation -- not cultural isolation, which many of us experienced in India, but literal, there-is-no-one-here isolation. I just went to a shopping mall that was obviously nice and well-kept, but which was nearly uninhabited. And it was so quiet -- the space seemed to totally devour the faint background musak, and the sounds that you do hear are more natural or mechanical - an elevator whirr, some water falling down a drain, a passing automobile. I find myself shy and tentative to approach the ubiquitous automatic sliding door for the frequent fear that it will not be open -- the stores here seem a little relaxed about opening times; that's a similarity with the subcontinent.

Another difference is food - northern European tastes grate against mine in roughly the same way that Indian tastes ended up largely compatible. Perhaps is was an issue of attitude -- I'm going to be here for three months, I better get used to this -- and certainly India increased my vegetarian tendencies which does not benefit me here, as I didn't even see chicken at the grocery store I slipped away to. I wasn't looking for meat, though, so it might have been there. I was generally hungry after missing breakfast and specifically seeking a little fruit, which I found courtesy of globalization.

That's all for now. These strawberries, which appear to be called either "jarđarber" or "flokkur" in Icelandic, are delicious. Being (well, hopefully) able to eat fresh fruit without thick skin is pretty convienent.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

On a bus through permafrost

At 5:30 PM (EDT) on July 5, I left my girlfriend Rachel and her sister Rebecca on a train platform in the southwest suburbs of Boston. Maybe 10 hours later, my clocks had been reset to 7:30 AM (GMT) and I was sitting next to a researcher from TTI Chicago, Prahladh Harsha on a bus to Reykjavik for ICALP 2008.

He mentioned that Iceland's population was smaller than Pittsburgh's - but it tuns out that Pittsburgh is a tiny, tiny bit smaller - essentially they are the same size, a bit over 310,000 people. His hometown of Hyderabad, on the other hand, has almost 10 million people. I had to prod just a little bit to get him to tell me where he was from - most American researchers on a bus in Iceland don't know where Hyderabad is. Most of them haven't worked in Bangalore for three months either. We talked about Hampi and air pollution in Bangalore as the bus drove past raw, cracked volcanic earth. And that's when it occurred to me to maybe write a thing or two in this while I'm in Iceland.