November 23, 2017

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009
6.28:

Missed updating my journal for a while, so I'll just have to hit the highlights of today :(

- toured Colosseum - Wow. What a sight! And to think, this was built in only 8 years!! The giant stones... no mortar!! They used a keystone.

- toured Roman Forum and Palatine Hill ruins - Also amazing. Some of the building built before Christ are just insane. Huge columns made of single pieces of stone. Still standing. It is almost unbelievable to see what the ancient Romans had built.

- saw Mamertine Prison - This is the prison where St. Peter was held before being crucified upside down. This was a very interesting place, with a hole in the ceiling where prisoners were lowered. Peter would be chained to the walls here (his chains are in a church here in Rome), with dead bodies all around, rats, and people waiting to die.

- saw the Pantheon - After seeing what we did of Rome, this was one of my favorites in terms of ancient Roman buildings. All of the other ancient Roman buildings have been damaged, but this building is almost unscathed. An incredible place. The oculus is incredible, with a beam of light hitting an area inside. Rapheal and some other significant persons are buried here. If you go to Rome, don't miss this one.

- had gelato from giolitti's - This is Rome's oldest "gelateria"

- took "where's mommy" pictures on the spanish steps - Fun pictures we sent home with mommy in a sea of tourists on the steps.

- took the subway back to the hotel and prepared to leave


6.29:

Checked out of the hotel this morning and walked over to the Termini train station (it was close to our hotel). Took a little while to figure out which train to get on, but we ultimately committed to what we decided was the right train and the right car (but disagreed with the posted signs - which was part of our hesitation). Ultimately, we were in the right place, and we met a great couple from North Carolina. We had a great chat with them, had a nap, and saw some beautiful Roman and Tuscan countryside.

Once in Florence, our hotel was just across the street, so it was quick (and cheap) to get there. We got settled and headed out to find a place to eat. We went to one of the place suggested by the hotel, but the attitude of the server and the prices on the menu quickly convinced us to try something else. We found another one and were greeted by a lovely lady who was very helpful in explaining the specials and the prices. We ate there and had a great time.

After eating, we explored a bit of Florence and then walked around the Brunelleschi's famous dome at the Duomo of Florence. Incredible. The cathedral exterior is also quite incredible. Headed back to the hotel.


6.30:

Woke up and had breakfast in our new hotel. It was good, but not as good as the breakfast at our hotel in Munich (but this hotel has free wireless internet!). Met up with our guide and headed out for a great walking tour of Florence (or Firenze as it is called here). Saw some amazing things. The Renaissance truly was born here in Florence (which is why Michelangelo's David is often used as the icon of the period). The architecture and the art are interesting, but most interesting to me is the open-mindedness of the period. This was the true reason the Renaissance flourished throughout Europe. It represented possibilities... a common man could aspire to be something greater, but using his brain and his gifts. Europe would begin thinking again, like the ancient Romans did over a thousand years before. One wonders what caused all of the Western world to stop using their brains for a thousand years. But regardless, it was in Florence that they began anew. Many of the great Renaissance sculptures are here, and quite a few of the originals are outside in the public!!! Some have been moved inside museums, but many of the great sculptures remain outside in the elements, and at the risk of crazy people who climb on them and do stupid things (Every great sculpture here and in Rome had these stories. On Michelangelo's David, there is someone's initials carved into his thigh. On Michelangelo's Pieta, someone brought in a hammer and climbed on it and started beating it. Etc.).

The tour ended in the museum that houses Michelangelo's David. Wow. What a sight to see the real thing. The guide explained so many great things to us. Why his statue was different from the one's before it (like Donatello's)... Why David appears the way he does. Why there is a tree in the background. Why his veins are so apparent. Why there is controversy over whether or not the pose is supposed to be just before or just after the battle with Goliath. Why the hands and feet appear to be enlarged. Why the toes look different. Etc. And even without all of that great info, the statue itself is truly amazing to look at. Knowing a little about how Michelangelo sculpted differently from other artists makes it even more impressive.

After the tour, we walked around and shopped a bit, and ended with a hot panini sandwich and slice of pizza from a local sandwich shop. Very good stuff. Took a nap at the hotel.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009
Trip Journal Part 2:

6.26:

had breakfast. talked with the great hotel staff about the best way to get back to the airport with luggage. Decided to take the bus, and bought the bus pass. Attended the Friday morning portion of the conference and saw a great talk Dr. Gerhard Hirzinger from the DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics. It is amazing what they have done in the field of robotics. Everything from space to surgical robotics. Also imaging and 3d modeling. Really cool stuff. Attended some splinter sessions. The first was a collection of presentations on walking robots (some papers on bipedal and quadrapedal) and one presentation on a robotic manaquin that could be used to tailor make mens formal wear. Very interesting. I suggested to the presenter that the technology could be of interest to those in the space industry for fitting of spacesuits, not only for the custom fit, but also to show the range of expansion of an individuals bodies in zero G (the spinal cord expanding for example). I'm not sure that there would be interest since I don't work with that at all, but something to look into perhaps.

while on the bus to the airport, I'll take a second to remark on the driving in Germany. My goodness people here drive fast, and with no margin for error. They drive very close and make very close turns. The bus driver from the airport made turns i would barely be able to make in my truck. Our cab driver was zipping through munich on wet roads at an incredible rate (although more like a professional driver, not like a madman). Somehow though, it all works. I think that people here are generally much better drivers than in the US. Talking with one of my German friends from the conference, he said most of it is due to the fact that all of the drivers follow the rules very closely. He also prepared us for what driving will be like in Italy. Based off what I have heard, I bet we will have some stories to bring back from Italy.

Checked out of the hotel and took our bags to the bus stop near the central train station. Caught the bus to the airport to head to Rome. Flight was fairly uneventful. The airline staff were very helpful and friendly. Our driver for our transfer to the hotel was awesome. He showed us many things and helped us to get situated in Rome.

Our hotel was nice, but in a bad area of Rome (lots of graffiti and trash everywhere). The hotel staff also seemed a bit standoffish at first, but later, when working our a dinner location, and help with the subway, it got better.

For dinner, we ate at a little restaurant that can hold about 30 people max. The food and service were outstanding, but the price was a little high (although, as we are discovering, everything is high). The prices were not out of line with the dishes. We had amazing food, laughed, and shared an entire bottle of Chianti. Good times.


6.27:

The next morning, we had breakfast at the hotel then made our way onto the subway. We got to the city center and started walking. We saw many old buildings and statues, although it was hard to know what anything was. Later, we started following the Rick Steve's walking tour suggestion, but we should have started that sooner. Eventually, we were at the Victor Emmanuel Monument. This was a monument made for the first king of the unified Italy. After that, we headed to the famous Trevi Fountain where we threw in a coin and made a wish. With a cup of Gelato in hand, we got back to the subway to head to the Vatican for our tour.

Our tour was incredible. We had headsets so we could hear our guide even amongst a sea of people. Her knowledge was very extensive. You could tell she was holding back some of her knowledge and excitements so that we would have time to see everything we could. No question challenged her knowledge.. even ones about the smallest details.

The Vatican museum... the Sistene Chapel... St. Peter's Basilica. These things were so amazing, that I don't want to talk about them. I feel like my words would only do injustice to them and give you an impression that is not big enough. I truly started to doubt how men on earth could be capable of creating such things. I'm sure we will have many stories to tell from here. I saw a quote somewhere that said,

"Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving." -- Werner Herzog

I think that is how I feel now.

After the vatican, we visited some shops and saw some really beautiful but expensive stuff. Then, we took off to eat. Which leads us to a good story.

We decided to take the Rick Steves book out and see what restaurants he recommended in the Vatican area. One, which will remain nameless, looked pretty good so we followed directions on the map and went there. We were greeted by a waiter who seemed annoyed at our presence (you read that correctly). He spoke without looking at us, and then eventually came back and asked me what I wanted to drink. I said "water". Christian then started to say "and I'll have" and the waiter turned around and walked away from her.

Christian looked at me with some eyes that I was glad were not for me. The waiter was an older gentlemen, so I thought, on a longshot, maybe he expected me to order drinks for the both of us. I don't have any idea how that would extrapolate out to ignoring the lady at the table, but I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt.

He returned with the water and turned around. Christian raised her hand and started to say "Scussi... can we have a menu?" and the man said something without turning around and facing her. Again, the eyes came my direction. I ducked. I asked if she wanted to leave. She was disgusted, but said she would stay. I said "C'mon... let's just go. There are plenty of other restaurants that want our business", but she said no. We would stay. I thought I could hear some teeth grinding but I couldn't be sure.

When the waiter returned, he returned with about 6 bowls of appetizers. He said some things in Italian saying, "please please... enjoy". He walked away and we quickly asked each other... "is this free?"

Returning again, Christian asked "Quanto Costo?" (how much?), and he shook his head from shoulder to shoulder and waved his hands saying something like "not much... you enjoy". After some language barrier issues, a younger waiter decided to translate and pointed to the appetizer selection on the menu that specifed a spread of everything. It was about 9 Euros (about $14 USD).

Based entirely off of Christian's eyebrows and the rate at which she closed her menu, I knew we were leaving. As we stood up, the waiter started apologizing (although I think that had a little to do with the fact that the other waiters saw that he had been pressuring us and being rude to us). I told him thank you, paid for the bottle of water, then we walked out. We walked further down to a restaurant that was not in the Rick Steve's book, but had a great dinner. Things were great, and I really like the story we got from that other restaurant. I think it was worth the 2 Euros.

Tomorrow, we take the historical tour including the Colosseum!!

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Friday, June 26, 2009
Trip Journal part 1:

6.23:

got to airport, then heard that our plane that was coming from atlanta had to be turned back to atlanta. not exactly the vote of confidence you want in your plane.

since we missed out connecting flight to munich, we will now have a flight to paris and then munich. unfortunately, this means I will miss the conference in the morning.


6.24:

more delays... finally made it into paris. Had a huge trek across the France airport to make our plane to Munich just in time. The french lady in security laughed at me. She pointed to my hat and said something in french. So I took it off planning to walk through the security scanner with it off. She laughed, called me back, and then put my hat on the conveyor belt. So far, even with the language barriers, all of the Air France workers could run circles around the Delta employees.

finally made it into munich, after missing an entire day of the conference, to find out that our bags are still in atlanta, and won't be here today, or tomorrow morning, which means i'm going to the conference in the clothes I have on. unbelievably aggravated. also, the stupid phone card that i bought (to avoid the hassles of roaming with my phone overseas) is turning out to be a giant pain in the ass. trying to add funds to the account goes to a screen saying an account administrator will try to do it within 24 hours??? nice.

This forced us to spend our entire evening trying to quickly go shopping and get a sweater i could wear tomorrow before the shops close. had dinner at "Wirsthaus in der Au" which was really good. Had a really good waitress which helped us out.

without our luggage, we are also missing our power adapter, so our laptop battery is all we have left to charge our phones. So far the trip is way too stressful!!!


6.25:

had breakfast in the hotel and took off to learn how to use the subway system in munich to get to the conference hotel. after some confusion, finally figured it out (mostly) and got to the hotel. To add to the stress of being under-dressed for the conference, it was raining in the morning. Since I had no umbrella, I arrived soaking wet. Under-dressed and soaking wet, I walked up to the registration counter. That was uncomfortable.

Attended an incredible talk from Dr. Sankai, the founder of Cyberdyne (no kidding... cyberdyne... like the Terminator movies). The company research is HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb) and they have applications from everything from entertainment (providing resistance and environmental forces for VR games) to replacement limbs. Some of the "challenges" he showed were things like helping a man with polio to move his legs for the first time in his life, to SCI patients learning to walk again. Truly amazing stuff.

Attended some splinter sessions afterwards with 4 talks in each one. Some were very interesting. I particularly enjoyed one from a gentleman from Carnegie Mellon University. He talked about redundant robots (7 or more joints) and how there were indices to measure a robots ability with respect to its primary tasks (such as range of motion), but nothing related to secondary objectives of redundant robots, such as Torque limiting or obstacle avoidance. Since enhancing the design of a robot for obstacle avoidance (changing its morphology for example) may take away from the first objective (line tracking), he proposes a way to modify the performace indexes of others to include the secondary objective/first objective ratio. I can't reproduce his words very well, but i hope to do so once i get a look at the proceedings.

after the morning sessions, got back to the hotel to change into nice clothes (our bags showed up!), and then return with christian for the dinner cruise. took the subway this time and had a much easier time. The dinner cruise was very nice. Christian and I had great conversation with folks from Germany, England, Turkey and the US. This was really the first relaxing event of the trip, so we really enjoyed it. Tomorrow I will have a few more sessions in the morning at the conference, then it is off to Rome!

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Saturday, June 20, 2009
Some more great pics in the following folders:

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