Categories: "The Life"

No Pallo Italiano!

07/13/10 | by Comp615 [mail] | Categories: The Life, The World

So this weekend I took a whirlwind trip of Italy which included Rome, Florence, and Verona. I probably didn't get to do everything in the cities, but here's my travelogue from the weekend (At least what I can remember at the moment.

EDITORS NOTE: Photos can be found on facebook here. It's not a complete collection, and it's also missing all the processing I normally do. So the HDRs and panoramas I attempted will follow in another album.

Getting There
The plan was to take a train from the station by my office to Verona, then to take a short train to Padova, where I would stay Friday night. I planned to get in around 10, and get up early to head to Rome (A short 2 hours from Padova). However, I found out a few hours before my planned departure that the train wasn’t going to go past Innsbruck. After going to the station, I found that in fact the entire Italian transport system was on strike till 9PM.

In a state of panic, I frantically checked flights and alternative options. Luckily one of my co-workers pointed me to a cool site called: http://www.mitfahrgelegenheit.de/ (Literally, passenger opportunities or something like that). The site is essentially the German ride sharing site which allows people to select where they are going from and where to. I was surprised to find a ton of options to Italy, and the closest I could get was Padova. So I called the guy and found myself in a cooper-mini with three strangers on the way to Italy.

Driving is certainly different than the train. There was traffic, radio, and other people to talk to. The driver was apparently from Rome, and the other two passengers from Spain and Munich. We managed to speak a combination of German, Italian, English, and Spanish along the way. As we wove through the mountains, radio stations faded in an out about once per song.

It was very apparent once we crossed into Italy. No sooner were we over the border, than I noticed the incredibly annoying comic-sansesque highway font. On the upside, it was about 15 minutes into the country that I saw my first Lamborghini…awesome.

The first region we traveled through in Italy was fascinating. There were still large mountains like in Austria, but now the side of these mountains was lined with vineyards. Literally everything that wasn’t stone or a house was filled with grapevines. The Italian explained that this was characteristic of the region. After 6 hours of driving, we ended up at Padova station.

I ended up with an hour long wait for the train (The first option was full from the strike), so I took a regional train. While I waited, I got my first taste of Italian food: McDonalds. Unfortunately this didn’t quite live up to the hype people always give Italian food, but unfortunately, it was my only choice as the station is in a fairly remote part of the city.

Upon arriving in Padova, I discovered that public transportation there stopped at 10PM. I also discovered that taxis of a minimum charge of about 7 Euros. Double whammy. Anyways, long story short, I slept, got up, and went to Rome. I arrived about noon and began my travels.

Rome
To say it was hot this weekend would be an understatement. I nearly died 6 times (twice per day), drank water at the rate of about 1L per hour, and am never going to be able to wear the four shirts I took with me again. (Side note: Wearing the Crew 180 shirt reminded me of how hot it was in Trinidad…I’m not sure which of the two was worse). Despite the heat, I managed to navigate myself off the train platform and to the appropriate bus to my hostel, which I was told was 4 stops away.

After vigorously counting bus stops, I disembarked to find myself in the middle of nowhere. As it turns out. Italians have sub-bus-stops. So when I passed University (the stop before my stop), there were actually still three more university stops to go. The hostel was actually fairly nice and after a quick 5 minute email check, I went out to go sight-seeing.

Having despaired in the bus system, I tried my luck with the subways. All the stops were listed, and there were only two lines which form an X in the city. The subways stations themselves are very dark and creepy, and the cars from one line are heavily graffitied and don’t announce stops. Despite this, I was headed to a park which was actually listed on the subway stop list, so it was fairly easy to find…the stop that is.

Turns out the park (which is listed under the stop) is actually an unmarked 3km walk down a street which does not have sidewalks. Along the way I met a dad-daughter pair who had similar mis-fortune. Turns out she lived in CT and studied in MI, so we chatted for awhile till we finally got to the place.

This road “Via Appia Antica”, is where a lot of the catacombs and other cool old things are. It’s also fairly far from the center of town, so it was my “try something no one else does” thing. I purchased an expensive tour of one of the catacombs which turned out to be really cool (that’s a pun, because they were neat, and literally much cooler than the 100 degree weather outside).

After wandering the area, I took the bus back for a Gelato break. Gelato is awesome.

After resting, I checked out a few out of the way sites which I wouldn’t be able to get to the following day. This meant Spanish Steps and another Plaza. They were both cool. Spanish steps were very very touristy. I walked down the road a bit and found the stores-I-could-never-afford street. Later I wandered to a fountain, Fonta-di-trevi. Around the corner, I stopped in at a restaurant which I hoped would serve me the famed Italian pasta I had heard so much about. I think the waiter was supposed to be off shift when I arrived, because the food arrived about 3 minutes after I ordered, and he is the only waiter in Europe who has ever given me the bill without being asked to (How rude). Turns out the 3 minutes were probably used to microwave the food, because it sucked. Major. Disappointed, I went to the hostel to rest.

I figured since I only had one night in Rome, I had to get my night photography in, so around 9 I started photographing the Colosseum and worked my way through a lot of the other central sites before heading back for the night.

A few things to be said in favor of Italy, the busses and subways were all about 50 degrees because they were air-conditioned, which was awesome. My hostels also had A/C, which was a lifesaver.

Sunday, I set out to finish what I had started. Starting again at the Colosseum (well kind of) I started knocking down the sites. It turns out the line for the Colosseum is 2-hours long, but since I had done my research, I walked 200 meters to Palatino (A big park of ruins basically) and purchased a ticket there in about 2 minutes. I wandered the park for about an hour (see pics) then headed to the Roman Forum. Unfortunately, all I could think about while wandering the Forum was that it reminded me of the Western Plaugelands…so I headed to the Colosseum. I literally laughed at all the people in line as I walked past a 2-hour line to the entrance. Best move ever.

The Colosseum was nice…not much to be said on that. I finished up there and worked my way over to the Pantheon. Like all other tourist sites ever, it was under construction. The inside however was just like ever picture you’ve ever seen. There’s the big hole where sun comes in, and it’s cool. (see pics). After this, I stopped at a random restaurant on the plaza where they offered a 12 euro drink, bread, pasta menu. I wasn’t expecting much after yesterday’s troubles, but this was literally the best pasta I’ve ever had. It was so, so, so good.

After eating this miraculous pasta and wringing out my shirt, I forged on to Piazza Navona, Castel S. Angelo and the Vatican. The Vatican was actually one of the coolest churches I’ve visited in Europe. I didn’t pay to go up to the top. But some of those popes have really pimped out tombs and the church is just fantasticly cool. The floor appears to have some sort of sun map whereby you can tell where the sun is currently setting in various cities based on where it is on the floor. (Sundials are still magical to me)

Unfortunately, it was time for a quick pizza dinner and a trip to Florence (Firenze).

Florence
I actually never took public transportation in Florence as everything was fairly close. I walked to my hostel to find that the power was out and the guy to give me my key wasn’t there. I called the guy to give me my key and while I waited managed to flip the circuit breaker and become the hero of every girl staying on the second floor. I then headed out to watch the evil Spanish soccer players beat the Netherlands (Deutschland Eurocup 2012!!!)

Monday in Florence was not entirely note-worthy. I basically toured all the sites quickly and took lots of pictures (see pictures). Florence is quite nice and I enjoyed being able to walk everywhere. After dinner a friend showed me what Limoncetta is (check it out), so that was fun. Eventually I headed back to the hostel and slept.

Verona
In the morning, I took two short trains to Verona. Since the last train left at 3, I decided to give myself a few hours in Verona. I managed to find the bus in fairly quickly and saw the outside of the Arena, Juliet’s House, and a few other areas. In comparison to the other places I visited, I was actually extremely charmed with Verona. Something about it felt more Italian than the other cities. Perhaps it was just because I was there for such a short period of time. In any case, it was a very enjoyable stop.

Finally, I headed back to the station and boarded by 5:30 hour train all the way back to Munich.

Wrap-up
A few notes about my experiences, Italy is very hot. It is also very expensive. Despite being a total cheapo, I found most attractions to cost significantly more than comparable ones in Germany. I also lamented the lack of student prices.
I discovered along the way that certain Italian toilets don’t have seats. They apparently aren’t supposed to. I guess they are a distant cousin of the infamous squatting toilets of China. Almost as inconveniently, I discovered they use different plugs than the rest of Europe.

I’m still annoyed by people who can’t use cameras. This has to stop. So you know how when you buy a camera sometimes it makes that beeping noise when it focuses? You are supposed to turn it off. Not only should people not be using flashes in churches, but it’s even worse when that focusing sound keeps going off. I felt so bad because we were in a church with 5 people or so and a nun praying, and this one person walks up to the alter and keeps making the focus-beep sound. GAH! Stupid Americans.

…Or are they? I also was talking with a Scottish guy recently, and he informed me that as soon as he speaks English, people ask him if he’s American. He also claims he usually says yes, since he is particularly poorly behaved. So maybe it’s not us after all! Next time you’re in a foreign country. Behave terribly and blame Canada!

Anyways, that’s my weekends travels. It was altogether overwhelming, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten certain details, but perhaps those will follow in a second post!

A (short) Guide to Yale YouTube

06/29/10 | by Comp615 [mail] | Categories: Web, College

Anyways, college is truly most excellent and always something new. I miss it a little bit. Yale really is an amazing place with amazing people. I've been working on some things for the fall already which reminded me of how much fun college is. Not the classes, of course, but everything else. Like having other people cook for you...Yeah, that's nice.

However, what's really important to know about Yale is how awesome our video production value is. What? You haven't seen one of the famous Yale videos? Here's a quick primer to Yale videos you have to know about.


College Musical

If High School Musical were good, it would be college musical. This is the "Pilot" of a 4 pt series which they dropped...because they are making it into a full-length movie this summer. Yay. Check this one out while you wait for the feature film, it's funny.

Sam Tsui
The same guys who did college musical later discovered that they could actually get famous if they became YouTube sensations by cloning themselves. People have been doing this for years, but not this well...

Gon Kiss Girls
If I could summarize my weekends at Yale into one music video. This would be it. This is Lonely Island meets JAW (The musical improv group at Yale). Very well done.

Admissions Video
What? People don't sing in your admissions video? Yeah, we're a little...different. Anyways, this is an entirely student produced film which is now our official video. As in the one they show high-schoolers when they come to visit...scary isn't it? But so awesome

That's an overview of the YouTube craze at Yale. What'll come next? Who knows. Perhaps I just love these videos because I know most of the people, but if you like them. Get on YouTube and check out some more! There's plenty of quirky videos and a capella songs for everyone!

To all people like me...

06/25/10 | by Comp615 [mail] | Categories: The Life, The Mind

If you are having to cook on your own this summer, and A) Can't cook and B) Don't want to spend 3 hours trying to. Check this out now:
http://thestonesoup.com/blog/images/free_stonesoup_ecookbook.pdf

Have a great weekend!

Rain, Cigarettes and Mountains

06/21/10 | by Comp615 [mail] | Categories: The Life

If you're on facebook, you already know that this is the title of my photo album from last weekend (Go ahead, you can click that link, I'll wait). Anyways, last weekend was a quick trip to Salzburg and Hallstatt. What follows is another one of those travelogue-type posts recanting my adventures.

Salzburg
I left directly from work after the Germany game and caught a train from the East Bahnhof which went directly to Salzburg. It's only a two hour ride, so that was nice. My first impression of Salzburg was a little underwhelming, the train tracks on the way in look like they have been bombed out, and the train station is literally made of plywood. They seem to be in the middle of a 5-year project to build a new train station, which should bring it more inline with German stations.

I stopped in at my Hostel quickly to drop off my stuff and then went out for a night on the town. At the dinner joint, I was amused to be sitting next to a group of Italians who spoke basically no English or German, so the waiter was having fun with them a bit as they tried to order. Eventually the group seemed to understand what one dish was and four fingers sealed the order. The waiter made a beer drinking motion, and another four fingers confirmed his guess. It was an amusing way of ordering, but effective.

The night was rainy, and I wandered through the streets taking pictures for awhile before stumbling upon a path up the hill which offered a nice view over the rooftops of Salzburg. The next morning, I set out early to visit the castle which rests high atop Salzburg, it has some interesting history behind it. In order to kill time, I wandered some more past various Mozart residences which were overpriced, and through a fun market in the old section of town near the Residence.

I ended my voyage through Salzburg in an absolutely beautiful garden (Which you can see in the photos). It was massive. There were literally a half-dozen or so wedding parties wandering around taking pictures, and I couldn't figure out why until I followed them back to the source. It was a city office. I think I remember this from some high-school German class, but in Germany people are married twice, once religiously and once civicly at a city office. This must have been that office (because it wasn't a church) because they were putting people through about one group every 15-20 minutes.

Hallstatt

The trip to Hallstatt was when the excitement really picked up though. After a little 50 minute ride to a transfer station, I boarded a regional train. As soon as we pulled out of the station, I knew this was going to be a treat because there was only one track. After about 5 minutes, our train lurched to a halt and I thought something was wrong until I realized that this was actually a "station". It was literally a farm which happened to have a train track running through it and some gravel.

Eventually we hit some more legitimate stations (I.E. They had huts). What was amazing was that there were actually conductors at all these stations. A couple stations along the way had multiple tracks. At these stations we usually had to wait 2-3 minutes for the train coming the opposite direction to get through. It was fun.

When I finally got to my stop, it was one of those gravel things in the middle of nowhere. I was very confused as to where the town was until I wandered far enough to find a small ferry which took you across the lake to the town. It was so quaint, but it also offered a fantastic view of the whole area. Definitely the best way to get to Hallstatt!

By the time I got there it was late, so I checked into my Gasthaus and had dinner. In the morning, it wasn't raining, so I made a trip to the nearby waterfall which was also very cool. So many of these towns are just wedged in-between two 6,000 foot sheers, it's very cool to see in person, I don't think my photos could do that aspect justice. After my hike to the waterfall, it started raining again. Nevertheless, I wandered the town and took some pics before heading to the next town over for a tour of the caves in the mountains.

Both of the caves rest in a mountain area about 5,000 feet ASL. The cable car ride up requires adamant ear popping as the ascent only takes about 5 minutes. Through a series of very unfortunate events, I was only able to tour the ice cave which was nevertheless awesome. One can easily (and should) spend a whole day on the mountain, but knowing that the last bus home leaves around 5PM. I only rode the car to the first station where the caves are, but there is actually a second segment that take you up another couple thousand feet to one of the peaks where you can find a small town, some fantastic hiking, and an incredible view of the entire region and lake (On a sunny day). A day like mine, and you can only see clouds.

After I got back I grabbed a quick dinner and joined a group of New Zealanders (Kiwis) for the World Cup game. I couldn't tell what language they were speaking for about 10 minutes. (Austrian German can be very hard to understand in the mountains). Turns out it was English. Very muttled English. But we had a great time anyways watching the game. It felt like something straight out of a press photo with the 10 of us at a very small little bar stand on the lake. After the game, I took the ferry back and embarked on my long trip back to Munich.

Debrief
As the title implies, it rained the entire time. Not heavily, just consistently. I'm sure it's even more beautiful when sunny, but it was nevertheless absolutely the most beautiful place ever. I found Hallstatt while randomly browsing the internet, but it was totally worth the time.

The one downside was, I went to a bar to try and watch a world cup game, only to discover that Austria apparently doesn't have a smoking ban indoors. In fact, literally every single person in Austria smokes. When getting off the train, teens would constantly put a cig in their mouth, grab their bag, and wait with almost comical reliability.

This trip only got me even more excited for other such mini-trips. I think two days is the perfect amount of time for me to explore a city. Unless there's something I'm really into, I usually get bored with cities in a couple days (as far as being a tourist goes...). Future destinations are still TBD, but look for more such trips soon!

The Future: Delivered

06/15/10 | by Comp615 [mail] | Categories: Web, Technology

This week has been an absolute orgy of revolutionary technology. Between E3 and all the gadgets surrounding that, things might never be the same again (Mainly because of Portal 2). Anyways, today I want to highlight two changes closer to home that will forever change the way you work on the web. How do I know that? Because if you're like every other person in the world, you use Facebook and Youtube.

Let's ease you into the revolutions by starting with facebook. As I just discovered while uploading my photo album from Dachau...in the past month (Or even more recently), Facebook has finally solved one of the cruxes of the entire website: photo uploading. If you try to upload photos now, you should find a new popup message telling you about the upgrade. What it is, is a small application (At least for windows) which you can install on your computer and acts as a proxy for the photo uploader.

Put simply, you can upload photos in the background of facebook. YA RLY. Go try it. Create a new album and the new window will pop up where you can upload photos. After selecting them, you'll be taken back to the facebook homepage while your photos upload in the bottom right corner. Another minor note on these changes: If Facebook programmers are worth their wages, your uploads should be faster since resizing is done client-side (It might have been through Java too) and hopefully your photos will FINALLY auto-rotate. Someone try it and let me know!

Ok but now brace yourself for this one, because it's huge. I was unable to reproduce this on any computer other than my work computer, so it might not work for you...yet. Youtube has re-programmed a bit of their site so that if you search while watching a video, the video will continue to play alongside your search results.

Let the sink in.

Gone are the days of accedential searches where you were actually in the active window and shoot, now you have to rebuffer the whole video. Here are the days of being instantly ready to continue your late-night youtube bing in a single window. Don't believe me? I don't either, so here is a screen shot showing the new layout. I searched for something while watching a video, and that was all.

PROOF

Well that's the big news early on in the week. Go check out E3 news on a tech site if you want to see some cool video game motion-tracking (Xbox) or incredible games (Portal 2) throughout the week more is sure to come!

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A collection of musings from my time at Yale along with some thoughts about my "Freshman year of life" in San Francisco.

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