The bastard trip from hell aka. Houston and the hurricane!

Well, it was funny, I had a lot of air travel during the last weeks and nothing went wrong. Somewhat suspicious! And yes, on the *last* flight, the horrible happened.

Continental Airlines

I was supposed to fly from Austin to Indianapolis on Thu 5pm and arrive at 10:30pm. Looked like a great flight when I was booking it. Well, well. I was waiting in the Continental President’s club in Austin (which
sounds much better than it actually was) when they announced that the Houston airport had to shut down due to a hurricane. Oh well, my flight was “delayed” they didn’t even know until when. The plane was stuck in Houston. Actually, it got stuck right after it pushed back from the gate. The poor folks in the plane were waiting 2.5 hours in the plane on the runway. Btw., it is a 30 minute flight between Austin and Houston (and a 2 hour drive ;-)).

Anyway, so my plane was arriving at an unclear time. So I checked alternatives and there was a 6:45 plane going to Houston. The lounge folks couldn’t help and told me to ask at the gate. Well, so I got in
line (a horribly long line). 30 minutes later I reached an agent and in the meantime the other plane arrived. The 6:45 was already boarding at that time. The agent tried to get rid of me and told me that the other flight would board in a minute. Well, I convinced her to give me the last middle seat anyway. Haha, apparently, a new hurricane arrived in Houston in the meantime, so we had to wait 30 more minutes in the plane. I thought my flight to IND was gone for sure. We arrived three hours late in Houston. The airport was a complete mess (reminded me of Bangalore or Mumbai, thousands of desoriented people).

So I missed the (delayed) IND flight by 10 minutes :-(. Darn! The service counter was sorrounded by about 1000 angry folks, so I it was useless to wait (was already 10pm). So I decided to get out of this
airport. The next and last flight in roughly the right direction was leaving 10:15 to Chicago, so I ran to the gate. I asked there if they would deliver my luggage home if I went to Chicago. But well, “if a
passenger leaves his route voluntarily, the luggage will not be delivered”. Ok, it also turned out that *ALL* flights to Indianapolis on the next day were full, so I would have to stay two nights!! And the
hotel is not covered because it’s due to bad weather conditions. Oh man, so I took the last seat (middle seat in the last row of the plane) and go to Chicago … but I got a first-class ticket to Indianapolis after
complaining enough (Staralliance status helps for some things). And apparently, my luggage made it to the connection flight that I missed. I am baffled how my luggage can be faster than I was (running!!)??? Oh well.

I convinced the Continental gate agent to give me a hotel voucher (again, Staralliance status came in handy) at the Westin O’Hare. Well, I had the voucher but there was no shuttle at 2am and the Westin didn’t have a phone in the shuttle center (WTF!?). So I took a cab for only $20 :-(. Well well.

After four hours of sleep, I went back to the airport with a horrible headache. Yeah, and, great! The flight to IND was delayed by 2 hours. Well, it’s again only a 30 minute flight/2 hour drive). Oh well. So now
I’m in this half-hour flight, sitting in mediocre first class but I guess I’ll make it now (finally!) after a slight delay of 15 hours. Hope my luggage is really there. I just want to get home at this point.

My luggage was there but rather crushed … my best advice for now is: avoid flying!

Visiting Germany (yes, visiting)

My other planned summer vacation fell through (of course after I booked my ticket to Europe :-)). Yes, I was planning a vacation (believe it or not). Vacation means that I may only read email once a day :-). Anyway, so I invited a friend and we decided to do the tourist thing in Germany, actually, more around the area where my parents live (Saxony). Obviously, I lived in this area for quite a while but it was very nice to actually explore it! So the tour was: Bautzen, Goerlitz, Munich (I had to apply for a new US visa there … and my iPad was stolen …), Koenigsstein, and Dresden! It was all very beautiful! Not much to say besides the commented pictures below :-).

Sturm auf La Bastille!

I have been at the INRIA-Illinois Joint Lab workshop in Grenoble this week. It was a great workshop and I had amazing interactions with some French. I think we will form some interesting collaborations!

On the fun side, I ran up La Bastille in Grenoble! It was really nice, perfect weather (very light rain and warm)! It took us 45 minutes to run up (including getting there from the hotel) and 30 back. It was really great.

Here is a picture of La Bastille:

Lame people could take the bubble lift … but not real men 🙂

So you know what to do when you’re in Grenoble the next time! Btw., we ran up the stairs (which was nice) and down another path/street :-).

Taste of Chicago!

I was at the Taste of Chicago festival (yeah, I skipped the Taste of Champaign and went to the real one ;-)). Thanks Dries! It was pretty nice and I had some good food! There were also some strange people attracted by the crowd (as usual). The banner of the weirdo-family says:

“Men should: Lead their families, provide for their families, bring up children for the lord, not be sports idolators, hate rock, rap and country music, have short hair, be masculine. Read Bible for details”

:-D. This is hilarious! And I’m sure that the guy with the megafon is doing all this. Well, he has short (or no?) hair as far as I can tell!! 🙂

Supercomputing 2011 and 2011 Committee Meeting

Right after the conference in Tucson, I had to go the the SC11/SC12 committee meeting in Seattle. It didn’t seem useful to fly back to Champaign over the weekend (I could have spent 20 hours in planes and 6 hours at home, probably sleeping anyway. So I just stayed in Seattle over the weekend. I received very bad news during that trip but fortunately, I was around a friend and we went hiking in Seattle (thanks Frank!).

We did two day-hikes that were not trivial. Unfortunately, I had my knee injured before but it was ok. On the first day, we climbed mount SI, acutally, we climbed from the bottom to the *very* top (the rock thing on the top!!). This was quite a hike. Approximately 4000 feet height difference and three hours walking (one way). The last climb was up a massive rock wall, it was very dangerous (adrenaline!) but also very impressive and nice. We beat the mountain!

The second day hike was to a large waterfall and a lake at the top of a mountain at Lake Serene. It was just stunningly beautiful even though I got a bit wet in the waterfall, and slipping was somewhat dangerous too :-).

Here is the GPS tracking of our Lake Serene hike (my new phone rocks!):

Here are some pictures:

2011 International Conference on Supercomputing (ICS’11)

This year’s ICS has been in Tucson, AZ. I have served on the program committee and also contributed two papers (one with Marc Snir and the other one with the folks from IU) to the conference. I also co-chaired a workshop with Kamil Iskra. So I had tons of reasons to go there — I wasn’t very thrilled about the location (isn’t Arizona a boring desert, eh?). And actually, it’s not too easy to get to Tucson, it was a 21 hour travel from Zurich *uff*.

Well, I was very surprised! The hotel was just amazing and the landscape even more. I would have never believed that such large cacti exist! I mean – wow! And they’re hundreds of years old. The pool was also amazing, during the day it was full of “tourists” and at night, many computer scientists accumulated around (and in) it :-). It was really nice!

The conference was amazingly well organized. Actually, this was one of the best (if not *the* best) conference I visited since a long time! Congratulations Dave!

Here are some pictures:

Visiting ETH Zurich

I visited ETH Zurich at the end of last month. Zurich is probably one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and definitely one of (if not the) most expensive city :-). Public transit is just a dream, I believe one really doesn’t need a car around the city (I know multiple people who live there and don’t have a car). The city is very hilly (I had to climb 1000 stairs to get from the main train station to my hotel, quite workout :-)). ETH itself sits majestically on top of a hill and offers a beautiful view. Especially the Professor’s lunch area, on top of the main building has an absolutely stunning view on the city and the lake. I also had many very interesting technical discussions and like the CS department there. Here are some pictures:

The gate to the computer science and chemistry building.

The entrance to the computer science building, all very impressive. The doors must weigh a ton but they are automatic (not like in Chemnitz where one really has to move the heavy doors ;-)).

The majestic main building. I gave my talk here.

View of the city from the main building.

Another view of the city.

Another view of the city.

The main building’s back entrance :-).

Anchorage, Alaska

I’ve been at IPDPS in Alaska this week. Actually, not just in Alaska but in *the* city in Alaska, Anchorage! Well, I was shocked, seriously. Achorage supposedly had 300.000 citizens, however, it seemed much smaller than Champaign or Chemnitz! There was really nothing happening there :-(. The mountains in the background are extremely nice, I agree.

The other nice things was that it was effectively light until 12am. It’s really weird when you step out of a bar at 11pm and it’s like noon …. well, one weird thing was that all the natives seem to be drunk after 10pm for some reason. As I said, a strange place!

The conference was amazing! It seemed to me as if I knew every other person. And the IPDPS 25th anniversary show and Moose and Awards sessions were just great (with the right people around ;-)).

This year, I was chairing the HIPS workshop there which also went extremely well! We had 58 attendees during the (excellent) keynote of John Mellor-Crummey!

Unfortunately, I had barely time to visit the wildlife, but we made a small trip. Here are some pictures to get an impression of Alaska (it’s basically like the Alps, nothing too special).

Interestingly, it wasn’t all that cold, around 12-15 degree Celsius. A fun fact is that Monday was colder in Champaign (10 degree Celsius) than in Alaska (14 degree Celsius) :-).

Yes, I have been there! Eklutna lake, near Anchorage!

Mountains …

More mountains …

View on the city (small, isn’t it?)

Even more mountains …

(Thanks to Jens and Thomas for the pictures, I forgot my camera …!)

Viva la Mexico! … and San Diego :)

This week I have been at the DOE ASCR Exascale meeting in San Diego. It was actually a very nice and informative meeting. I hope the strategy documents will be published soon. We identified a couple of challenges for Exascale (yes, more challenges :-)).

My flight was in the afternoon of the last day and nobody else was around that afternoon :-(. Well, so I decided to take the local commuter train to Mexico ($2.50 each way ;-)). It’s pretty cool, one usually doesn’t walk across international borders like this. The funny thing was that nobody cared when I walked into Mexico (the officer was sleeping), however, the controls to get back in the US were extremely strict so that there was a line of at least 1000 people and I would have missed my plane if I wouldn’t have walked to the front of the line (which worked surprisingly well).

Here are some pictures:
Apparently, the parking Lot and Mexico are the same direction 🙂

Glad that I didn’t come by car, seems like there are more serious controls.

The famous US-Mexican border, well, not too spectacular.

Walking through those prison-bar things is actually fun, and they twist rather fast if you want ;-).

The border stone, not sure why it says something about water commission there??

The only Mexican guard (the immigration officer was sleeping on his chair a bit further but they didn’t want me to take pictures. Too bad. Btw., this guy had a G3 *lol*.

Very very inviting … really. I read that many people are robbed in this area.

But they had a gigantic flag! Viva la Mexico!

Well, time to go home (there was really not much to see actually — but the food was just *awesome*. I love *real* Mexican food now! Cilantro is not that bad if it’s used in the right combination.). Those signs were actually very helpful for dumb tourists like me.

Taco Bell has a branch in Mexico. If they know?

Probably Tijuana’s main sight, well, kinda sad but it’s humongous and the steel rods make funny noises in the wind.

Again, good that I didn’t go by car, the line into the US was hideous and sneaking to the front seems harder by car ;-).

All-in-all an experience that I didn’t want to miss. I didn’t have much time though, but I guess Tijuana is not that touristy in general ;-).