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News, Updates, & Rants...
Finally picked up car from repairs... and it's great. Better than it was before the accident (all clean and shiny---all the tiny little scratches at various places were buffed away, and everything seems to have been repaired very well without any noticeble artifacts). Total cost of repair: $6.9k---good thing for auto insurance :-)
- Alex; 20160811
August 11th at wikipedia...
It seems every time I travel, I catch something... been pretty sick with flu-like-symtoms last few days---can barely catch a breath :-/
- Alex; 20160810
Went to pickup car from repairs... and it was missing two parts. The pieces that were replaced had other pieces attached to them... like the mudguard, etc., so those were missing. (it was kinda easy to tell they were missing, since the left/right sides of car should be perfectly symmetrical, and they were not). Left the car in shop while those are ordered and attached :-/
For the last two days, had a `createathon' (sorta a hackathon) at work (FINRA). With 58 teams and about 350 people participating. My team implemented the Local outlier factor algo going against featurized firm trade data [features such as how aggressive a firm is, whether it tends to take liquidity or provide it, etc.]. Got some results---no time to analyze them. Made it into the `final' round of 12-teams, but in the end didn't win anything :-/
- Alex; 20160809
...and back in NYC :-)
- Alex; 20160808
Long ride from Ambala to New Delhi... and catching the flight.
- Alex; 20160807
Spending day in Ambala... and getting soaked in the rain :-D
- Alex; 20160806
We really wanted to see the sunrise, so got up very early, and ran to the best places to observe the sunrise... unfortunately due to clouds, it wasn't very spectacular... but it was still nice.
This is the day of flying back to Delhi, so needed to get back from Darjeeling to Siliguri. Caught a shared-cab as it was leaving, and got in. That cab had 13 people in it (including driver).
Anyways, the drive back was also amazing pretty---also through hilly tea plantations. It's just an amazingly pretty place.
The cab dropped us off about a mile away from the Siliguri city center---so we decided to walk a bit. And then it got super duper hot. And then when we got to the center, everything was closed (including the KFC!).
It's very hard to find a place to snack :-/
We ended up catching a shared cab to the airport, and just hanging around there until the flight. The airport cafe had a week-old pastry with coffee, which was very palatable by that point.
Flight to Delhi had great food :-)
In New Delhi, we needed to pickup stuff and get to Ambala, so... from airport, we went to New Delhi train station, auto to places, then back to train station, learned that there were no tickets to Ambala, then auto to bus station, and caught an air-conditioned bus as it was leaving (literally, on the go right at the gate). The whole evening was hurry-hurry-hurry-hurry... the bus ride was amazingly nice after that.
- Alex; 20160805
Started day with a walk to the train station to book a `toy' train ride. Got morning tickets for a loop ride on the steam Darjeeling Himalayan Railway... then back to hotel for breakfast, followed by walk back to the train station...
The train ride was a lot of fun. The coal from the engine goes everywhere. The train goes right on the street, along with cars---it seems like it's going through people's homes (everything is so packed on top of hills, that the railway seems to be going right through folks backyards).
After the train ride, went onto tea trip. Bought some tea, tasted lots of teas, had pastries with tea, etc., just hanging around town until sunset.
- Alex; 20160804
With Gangtok touristy places done, we caught an early morning shared-cab to Darjeeling. That is one amazingly pretty drive... via hills of tea plantations. The views are amazing.
It didn't even occur to me that Darjeeling is famous for the tea... until seeing a tea shop on every corner :-/
Darjeeling is a very vertical town... very hilly. Takes a lot of effort to get around. Just walking around town you're gaining and losing a lot of altitude.
Also apparently Kangchenjunga (the third highest mountain in the world, at 28k feet) is visible from Darjeeling. So right at sunset, we ran (walked fast) to Observatory Hill to get a view... pretty amazing.
...and then KFC and PizzaHut for dinner :-)
- Alex; 20160803
Around 7 in the morning, found out that roads to Lachung are closed. So much for that. Onto the backup plan of: Tsomgo Lake!
At the checkpoint (yes, there really is a check point where they verify the permits and number of foreigners per car---the guy from Japan agreed to also go on Tsomgo lake), they didn't wanna let our car pass.
Apparently some of the paperwork was not filled out correctly, and the guards didn't believe Suneli was Indian (she's traveling with me, so `obviously' she needs a visa which she didn't have). So yah, that was a laugh---then she went and spoke to the chief and straightened the whole thing out. And on we went...
After a really long drive, the lake itself was very underwhelming. Yah, it's a lake... but the place isn't worth a whole-day-sitting-in-a-car-trip.
We did our best to hike around the lake, cut there appears to be no trail all the way around---it's very close, but the trail seems to just end, without looping back onto the road.
On the way back, saw a semi-wild (probably domesticated) Yak... it was just near the road, very friendly, posed for some pictures, etc.
Then the landslide... the truck stopped for a long while... by the excavator on the side of the road... waiting for a rock to fall down. Waiting and waiting and nothing... then OK to go. The rock turned out to be just a bit larger than an average brick :-/
So that's that for the big day trip into the mountains.
A note on negotiation: the Japanese tourist paid 5000 rupees for this day-trip, while Suneli and I *both* paid 3000 rupees. That's 1500 vs 5000 per person... Same trip, same everything. So... negotiation is very important. I'd imagine the British couple I saw at the checkpoint paid a lot more---since they arranged everything in advance before coming to India.
- Alex; 20160802
Made arrangements to visit Lachung. So here's some stupidity: there are some places that foreigners aren't allowed to go, and the places where foreigners *are* allowed to go, you need at least *two* foreigners. That's right, Suneli and I couldn't go places all by ourselves... we needed another foreign tourist!
So after some hassle, we found a tourist agent who was willing to take us to Lachung... the plan was to sign up another willing (and imaginary) foreigner---to get the permit that required at least two foreigners, who would fall ill the following day and not show up... the tour would continue without the imaginary tourist, etc. Then later in the day, luckily for everyone, another (real) tourist from Japan showed up, so that sneaky plan of a sick-imaginary-foreigner didn't materialize.
Anyways, we heard that the roads to Lachung were in bad shape, so made arrangements to visit the Tsomgo Lake (which also required a permit, and a 2nd foreigner).
With next day stuff planned, onto doing day trips at Gangtok... walked to Enchey Monastery, then all over places, such as Tashi View Point, Flower Gardens, Bakthang waterfall, Tibetology place, Chorten Stupa, Nam-Nang View Point, and the rope-way ride. The whole thing took maybe half a day...
- Alex; 20160801
Flying out from Delhi to Bagdogra...
After a really long shared-cab ride, arrived in Gangtok. Apparently foreigners need to get an ``Inner Line Permit'' from the `Government of Sikkim' (yah, it's kinda a country within a country---they even stamp the passport kinda like a visa :-)
- Alex; 20160731
Arrived in New Delhi, met Suneli, and spent the rest of the day roaming around central Delhi.
- Alex; 20160730
...and I'm off to India :-)
- Alex; 20160729
Finished reading Data Smart: Using Data Science to Transform Information into Insight by John W. Foreman. This book is amazing. It starts out very "meh" like---it uses Excel for *everything*... but then it gets super duper good. You'd be amazed what Excel is capable of...
But this book isn't about Excel. It implements pretty hard core machine learning stuffs... with very clear explanations and examples, all done in pretty simple Excel.
The last chapter implements everything from previous chapters in R.
The last section... is just pure gold. Your job as a data scientist isn't to use Hadoop or to implement fancy algorithms,... it's to solve business problems. It's more than likely your company's core business isn't data science. Whatever you do must help your core business. The book gives an example of an airline company... sure they do a lot of data science to squeeze as much profit out of every seat... but their core business is flying airplanes... everything their data science folks do must complement that core business. And it's the same for other enterprises.
- Alex; 20160728
...and back in NYC :-)
- Alex; 20160725
The flight back to JFK is at 11:59PM, so got a whole day to do stuff... One of the fellow hikers at Phantom ranch suggested Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona, so went there... and done that.
Sedona was hot. Like really really hot. The GPS screen melted (the tomtom that was stuck to the windshield... the screen separated into layers).
After that, drove to Lost Dutchman State Park, and spent the rest of the day hiking the treature trail (and watching the sunset).
Then a trip to Popeye's for dinner, and back to the airport :-)
- Alex; 20160724
Got to Phoenix, rented a cheapo box-on-wheels, and proceeded to drive to Grand Canyon. At grand canyon, packed energy bars and water, and started the rim-to-rim-to-rim walk :-)
One of the stupid things I wore: KEEN UNEEK Slice Fade Sandal. These are incredibly comfortable... however, for this kind of hike, in this kind of terrain, they were a terrible choice. Small pebbles get into them, and then you're walking on pebbles... and it's not easy to take'em out, etc. The only great part about them is that they dry very quickly...
So with that in mind, when approaching Ribbon Falls (about half way between south and north rims of the grand canyon), I just walked through the river, avoiding the stupid hill-and-bridge path... also was much easier to wet feet at ribbon falls, etc. So it wasn't a total loss, though in retrospect, I wish I wore something more solid for this hike.
The temperature was expectedly nice-and-warm (that is, mind-numbingly hot).
At the north rim, had `lunch' at the cafe (the usual place that's always open---the restaurant required a reservation---or a several hour wait).
The walk back was very very painful, due to poor choice of footwear :-/
Broke my personal best record on way back: from Phantom ranch to the top via South Kaibab trail: 3 hours 10 minutes. My previous best was 4 hours (and I really didn't think it could be done faster).
All in all, a great hike... as always. Will be doing it again in early October.
- Alex; 20160723
Flying out to Phoenix...
- Alex; 20160722
Finished reading Two Faces of Tomorrow by James Hogan. This is a pretty unique book. One day we'll invent an AI, will it be good or will it try to wipe us out? This book goes through the story of AI completely logically trying to wipe us out before realizing what it's doing---this is kinda like what the Terminator series would start out as. Towards the end (spoiler!) the AI realizes that it is fighting other intelligences, so it stops (before that, the AI was attacking shapes that were actively trying to kill it). Anyways, definitely worth reading for anyone interested in AI and scifi. It's also a neat story about how a controlled experiment involving an intelligence smarter than ourselves can quickly get out of hand---and avoid all the blocks we set in place to keep it contained (in other words, it's way smarter than the folks who setup the experiment).
- Alex; 20160716
Woohoo! New Dwarf Planet Discovered in Outer Solar System: Astronomers have spotted another dwarf planet, 435 miles in diameter, beyond the orbit of Neptune.
In other news, was in my first car-accident (4:26PM, Eliot Ave & Booth St. in Queens). At an all-way-stop intersection near my home, the other driver didn't stop and drove right into the driver-side part of my car. I always do a full-stop at all stop signs---have dash-cam video of events. The whole thing happened at perhaps 15mph, so no injuries---just ruined driver side doors and side :-/
The NYPD took 1.5 hours to show up (yes, that's what happens when you call 911 in NYC)... and as soon as they came, they drove off again (on an `emergency'). Then 30 minutes later they came back, and it took another hour to fill out the report (!!!).
So there's that... now have to pickup accident-report from Precinct 112, and have Geico figure out what to do (apparently the other guy's insurance corp should pay to fix stuff---and that process could take like 8 weeks just to figure out what's going on).
All in all, it's all good. The car is a piece of metal, and I'm just glad it wasn't worse.
- Alex; 20160712
Back in NYC...
- Alex; 20160711
Arrived in Delhi, and onto touristy places.
First stop, Red Fort... much of the inside-places were closed, but the outside was amazingly nice (and hot).
Second stop, National Rail Museum... and a ride on the toy train :-D
Then a stop by the mall, starbucks, kfc, and a metro back to the airport :-/
- Alex; 20160710
Khajuraho, the Eastern and Southern group of monuments.
I think whoever built these temples---there was like one or few artists who created master templates, and then they had a hundred craftsman create copies of the template stones---as each copy is slightly different, but the theme is definitely the same everywhere.
[Khajuraho Group of Monuments pix] [Other Albums]
Catching a late night train back to Delhi.
- Alex; 20160709
Khajuraho, the Western group of monuments.
We got a guide, and spent much of the day just walking around places.
So, the monuments are constructed out of interlocking stones (no cement), with various carvings on the stones---the carvings do repeat all over---so once you see one monument, the rest are nearly identical in form and style, just the details (like which statue-stone is where) are different.
They vary in quality, details, etc., but still amazing.
- Alex; 20160708
Arrived in Khajuraho early morning. Took cab from train station to city---it's about a 15 minute ride---then after visiting some hotels, got room in Zostel. Of the hotels in that town, this is by far the best one---definitely recommend stayin there---folks are friendly, rooms are nice and clean, etc.
Food wise... Khajuraho sucks. Avoid all food places. Anything that says Italian Pizza... is not! Best bet: buy stuff and prepare your own food (Zostel might help you prepare stuff, they got a kitchen on the roof). Second best, veggy only, ``Badri Seth Marwadi Bhoj''. If you want anything non-veggy, the only semi-ok option is Raja Cafe---it's probably a 2-star place, but all the other ones should earn a negative value :-/
After settling in hotel and getting lunch, took an auto to Raneh Falls. Really wasn't expecting much, but wow, that is one amazing waterfall---water as far as the eye could see. It's been rainy season, and it's just amazing...
This waterfall is worth a trip of its own. It's like Niagara Falls except not as tall.
[Raneh Falls pix] [Other Albums]
- Alex; 20160707
Taking train to Delhi (from Ambala).
Corn baked in sand rocks!
Taking night train from Delhi to Khajuraho---sleeper car, 10-hour ride.
- Alex; 20160706
B-day party with cake :-D
- Alex; 20160705
Visiting Chandigarh, again. This time to Ugly Valley Mall.
- Alex; 20160704
- Alex; 20160703
Arrived in Delhi, spent afternoon in Starbucks, and then hopped on a 7pm train (that actually showed up at 9:30) to Ambala.
Apparently Dominos pizza delivers pizza right to the platform!
- Alex; 20160702
Flying out to India...
- Alex; 20160701
Picked up the MPh diploma from CUNY Graduate Center. Apparently it's been sitting there since February. So now I have a double-masters... one a master-of-arts, another a master-of-philosophy, both in `computer science' :-D
- Alex; 20160629
Wow: Brexit: David Cameron to quit after UK votes to leave EU
Ok, I really don't get this whole nationality thing... shoudln't humans strive towards StarTrek style one-world-government instead of dividing into potential rivals? I mean, we're all born on this tiny planet---if aliens show up tomorrow, they really wouldn't care which nation is where...
- Alex; 20160624
Registered for Fall semester at CUNY Graduate Center :-)
- Alex; 20160623
Back to the Rocky Mountain National Park, and the plan here is to hike Mount Ida... again, supposedly one of the scenic hikes (after Longs Peak).
Got to trailhead, asked rangers about trail (apparently there were bears seen in the area), and headed up the mountain... but... again... shortly after starting hike, there was just too much snow. After losing the trail a few times, and not feeling upto walking in knee high snow, decided to turn back.
So instead of hiking Mount Ida, doing a bunch of touristy things along Trail Ridge road... the most scenic drive in the Rocky Mountain National Park.
[Trail Ridge, Rocky Mountain NP pix] [Other Albums]
- Alex; 20160619
So, the plan is to hike Static Peak... the 5k elevation gain hike, that's like the most scenic in the whole Grand Teton National Park. So got to trialhead, and headed up the Death Canyon (nice name, eh?).
This hike is indeed very scenic---and tough. Up up up it goes. First snow started in patches, then more patches, then sections that had to be traversed, then it was just endless snow... So about a mile from the summit, it was just ridiculously suicidal to continue... the slope was just too much, and sliding down would mean a pretty long fall off the mountain... so decided to turn back without reaching Static Peak.
Will have to come back in warmer weather :-)
[Death Canyon Hike pix] [Other Albums]
So with nothing better to do for the rest of the day, decided to drive to Yellowstone National Park---specifically to visit Artist Point; pretty much the only place I find truly spectacularly inspirational in Yellowstone...
[Yellowstone Artist Point pix] [Other Albums]
- Alex; 20160618
Flying out to Denver, Colorado :-)
- Alex; 20160617
No point in staying home... so BBQ in Harriman State Park.
UPDATE: My PhD advisor Danny Kopec passed away on June 12, 2016 from pancreatic cancer. RIP.
- Alex; 20160612
Been a while since I went on a good, long hike.. so drove out to New Hamshire and hiked Mnt.Washington. There's still snow on top!
[Mnt.Washington pix] [Other Albums]
- Alex; 20160611
Finished reading Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein.
This is one interesting book. I can see why some folks would wanna form a religion around it... definitely unique scifi.
- Alex; 20160610
After a 15-hour flight, arrived back in NYC.
And with my luck, E train (train I take from airport) got stalled---and it took nearly two hours to get home :-/
- Alex; 20160606
Ride back to Delhi.
Stopped by Amrik Sukhdev for dinner-snacks.
And onto airport :-/
- Alex; 20160605
Arrived in Ambala very very early, and then slept most of the day.
By evening, went to a fluit garden near Chandigarh.
[Manali pix] [Other Albums]
- Alex; 20160604
Manali Day 5:
Still recovering from stomach bug; note to self: never eat anything from street vendors :-/
Ride Yak by Hadimba Temple.
Collect weed by the bus stop. Apparently it grows everywere by the river---just didn't pay attention until this last day in Manali.
Take bus to Ambala, which turned out to be a 12-hour bus ride.
- Alex; 20160603
Manali Day 4:
Mostly stay in hotel due to stomach bug. Highly likely whatever the Rohtang Pass cold-salad merchant was selling wasn't very good :-/
Make resevations for return bus to Ambala.
- Alex; 20160602
Manali Day 3:
Rohtang Pass trip. Trip is supposed to start at 4am, but car left at 5 or so (made us wait in hotel lobby for almost an hour).
As soon as car got into mountains, it got stuck in stand-still traffic. Apparently the "check-the-pass" area is the bottleneck. Everyone needs to get their pass signed there, so there's a huge queue of cars, and each car needs to have someone stand in human-queue to get their pass signed.
This Rohtang Pass trip is a day-long trip, and nobody bothered to mention to bring food---as there's no food or water anywhere on the way (at least not were the tour stops).
On way to Rohtang Pass, drove by (mostly without stopping) Kothi, Gulaba Camp, Rahla Falls, Marhi, Rani Nala.
At Rohtang Pass... there's no food/water. Nothing. Urgh. There's edible snow though :-/
But then out of nowhere there's was a cold-salad merchant. Whatever he mixed up on the spot tasted amazingly great. Ate snow for water.
- Alex; 20160601
Manali Day 2:
Vaishno Temple, didn't go in.
Kasol Valley drive through. Apparently there's a `fake' Starbucks right on the main road---too bad the guided tour just drove right past it.
Manikaran, hot water springs place. Cooked rice in a hot spring---15 minutes to cook rice. Tried to take a bath too, but water was too hot, so only dipped feet for a quick rince.
The food at temple was great (apparently all cooked in these hot springs).
- Alex; 20160531
Manali day 1:
So... my hoodie grew legs and walked away during the bus ride :-/
Tasks: Get hotel. Figure out trips. Rohtang Pass is apparently closed Tuesdays.
The Highway Inn hotel arranged a 3-day tour: today's parts are: Hadimba Temple, Club House (waste of time), and Tibetan Monastery.
The Hadimba Temple... long line to see nothing inside. Really. Just take pix from the outside, and that should be enough. There's literally nothing inside (just a big rock, and `no pictures' sign).
The Club House is a tourist trap. Avoid completely.
Tibetan Monastery was pretty neat. Wish could've spent more time there just sitting and enjoying the ambiance.
- Alex; 20160530
Bday party with lots of balloons. (Happy Birthday!)
Late night: Leaving for Manali from Chandigarh. 8-hour bus ride (or so).
- Alex; 20160529
Visited Ugly Valley Mall in Chandigarh.
- Alex; 20160528
Visited temple in Chandigarh, followed by a walk by the Sukhna Lake.
- Alex; 20160527
Arrived in Delhi. Hang out in Starbucks until 7pm train to Ambala.
- Alex; 20160526
Flying out India :-)
- Alex; 20160525
Finished reading REAL Ultimate Power: The Official Ninja Book by Robert Hamburger. This book has been on my shelf for at least five years... finally got around to leafing through it (it's a very short book---it just takes an afternoon). Anyways, yah, it's hillarious. Some parts are downright amazing... but I couldn't help thinking to myself, am I really laughing at this? It's like you gotta be 12 years old to thoroughly enjoy most of it, and yet the book is definitely meant for adults---so... funny, but not sure how to rate it.
- Alex; 20160524
Ok, so this is going to be another of my crazy rants: there's no dark matter. Nor dark energy. It's all an illusion.
Let's take a look at ``Spacetime tells matter how to move; matter tells spacetime how to curve.'' Or does it? Consider Gravitational waves... that's pretty much proof that we can have an indentation of spacetime fly across the universe at the speed of light without having any matter flying along with it...
Now consider Standing waves, and imagine that somehow (forget how for the moment) we managed to setup a standing gravitational wave...
What would it look like? A dent in spacetime without matter...
What if some nearby matter just happened to be in the vicinity---lets picture it falling into the dent and forming say a galaxy, with the supermassive black hole at the center.
The resulting situation would appear like the galaxy has a much bigger mass---because it's ``creating'' this massive spacetime dent that it is right in the center of---and there isn't enough matter in the galaxy to explain such a spacetime dent...
So we (well, scientists) imagine dark matter!!! How would we find the dark matter particle if it's the curvature of space time that's causing us to think that there's dark matter?
Similarly, are black holes objects at all, or can we just think of them holes in spacetime? The objects are never getting out that, and besides the curvature of spacetime, what else is there? (e.g. would we be looking for black-hole particles that are creating the curvature of spacetime near a black hole?).
Similarly, waves want to spread out---making it appear like the indentations in space are moving away from each other... something we can label as dark energy.
- Alex; 20160516
Pulled a tick out of my side... Must've got it during BBQ :-/
Can't remember ever being bitten by a tick before. They're weird animals. Half the body of the bug digs into the skin, and the other half is wiggling legs... urgh. Pulled it out, disinfected the area, put Neosporin, etc., and googled for symptoms to watch for...
- Alex; 20160509
Went BBQ in Harriman State Park. Not too cold, but just cold enough not to be completely comfortable.
Had a very hard time starting a fire. Most of the wood was damp, and didn't have charcoal... and starting a fire with damp wood (and some napkins) is surprisingly difficult.
- Alex; 20160508
Back in NYC...
- Alex; 20160502
Train ride back to New Delhi... on a late train. So hurry hurry hurry to get to the airport on time :-/
- Alex; 20160501
Visited the other places to visit in Bikaner... Junagarh Fort, and a few places I can't remember.
What I can remember is visiting the camel research center, and doing a camel ride around the place---and having camel-milk ice cream :-)
[Bikaner pix] [Other Albums]
Then a 10-hour night train back to Ambala...
- Alex; 20160430
Train ride to Bikaner.
Got hotel by train station, and a 30-min train back to Karni Mata Temple (aka: the rat temple). ``The temple is famous for the approximately 20,000 black rats that live, and are revered in, the temple.''.
Got to see a white rat :-)
- Alex; 20160429
After a six hour bus ride, arrived in Jodhpur at around 5 in the morning; in the dark, the place does not look safe at all... once things brightened up, the place looks great.
Got the hotel right across the street from the Jodhpur step well.
Started day with a trip to Mehrangarh Fort. Saw the blue roofs of the entire city :-)
Visited the `the clock tower of Rajasthan'... went inside, and saw the mechanism, etc., The guy who winds/maintains it was very friendly.
Had dinner at the Stepwell Cafe...
[Jodhpur pix] [Other Albums]
- Alex; 20160428
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