Day 3 Bucharest

So, I’ve spent two days in Bucharest now! On top of this being my first time in Europe, it has been quite eye open­ing! I’m still fairly tired from being awake for some 27 hours my first day, but really fairly adjusted. When fly­ing in, we flew over Green­land, which was frankly beau­ti­ful to see. Then we had a short lay­over in Frank­furt. I found it inter­est­ing that from the air, the Ger­man towns were clumps of build­ings as one might expect towns to be, but Roman­ian towns from above were merely lines in the val­leys. Not sure why yet. The main thing I noticed, how­ever, was that I truly could not tell where one coun­try ended and another began from my dis­tant van­tage point. And yet, the cul­tural dif­fer­ences are a lot more vis­i­ble from the ground, although I will know a lot more about that when we head to Veliko-Tarnovo in Bul­garia today. But, it’s amaz­ing to me that so much con­flict could’ve come out of a land­scape that is more con­sis­tent than what we have in America.

When we landed, three of us on the same flight, we thought we needed to get our own cab, so went to exchange money. I made the rookie mis­take and didn’t bring enough cash, and ended up hav­ing to exchange a min­i­mum $100 from my card which is some­thing like 365 lei. And then, our pro­fes­sors (thank­fully) met us and got our cab. Which, by the way, was a hilar­i­ously ter­ri­fy­ing expe­ri­ence. I lost count of how many cars almost hit us and vice versa, our dri­ver was chill enough to even pick up his phone once, and we didn’t have seat belts. Best intro­duc­tion to Europe.

It has been inter­est­ing com­mu­ni­cat­ing with peo­ple, any­thing from point­ing and learn­ing words from them, to speak­ing (prob­a­bly ter­ri­ble) Roman­ian only to have them respond in Eng­lish. The cou­ple times a few of us have gone out into town, we have dis­cov­ered that about two thirds of restau­rant work­ers speak Eng­lish, but the rest enjoy our strug­gle to remem­ber Roman­ian words. When­ever we get lost in the twist­ing streets we can pretty eas­ily find some­one to point us the right way. One thing I am hav­ing to get used to is hav­ing to always buy water… def­i­nitely less con­ve­nient, but all part of the expe­ri­ence! The food, on the other hand, is AMAZING.

Yes­ter­day, after crash­ing at the hotel after our flight (only to imme­di­ately go out to a restau­rant), we went and saw Rev­o­lu­tion Square, where Nico­lae Ceaușescu made his speech at the old Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of the Roman­ian Com­mu­nist Party in 1989 only to have the peo­ple erupt into protest against com­mu­nism which quickly turned vio­lent. Right across the street sits the Uni­ver­sity Library, behind which is the Roman­ian Athenaeum, a beau­ti­ful neo­clas­sic con­cert hall built between 1886 and 1888. The George Enescu Music Fes­ti­val is hosted there every year… the day before we arrived. On the bright side, we got to go inside and hear a bit about the building.

I would post a cou­ple pic­tures of all of this, but it looks like I can’t right now so I’ll post them all later.

Today we vis­ited the Vil­lage Museum, an out­door col­lec­tion of houses from around Roma­nia, kept in their orig­i­nal styles. It’s inter­est­ing how much each region dif­fers in style. The north­ern regions use a lot of wooden struc­tures and have tall roofs, while the oth­ers have any­thing from clay to entirely under­ground rooms. That said, all the houses are the exact same lay­out, minus the regional color scheme.

Oh, and there’s cats and pigeons everywhere!

We learned about the diverse his­tory of Roma­nia; more than half the coun­try has been tossed between empires for cen­turies, yet still main­tains their own images. After com­mu­nism, it has been a rough tran­si­tion to democ­racy, seem­ingly because Roma­nia is imple­ment­ing the rel­e­vant insti­tu­tions with­out under­stand­ing their mean­ing. It is hard to say where this will go, but with time I’m sure I’ll dis­cover part of what Roma­ni­ans con­sider their own cul­ture to be.

I’ve already taken over 100 pic­tures and have 29 days to go… I may need to cut back or I’ll never sort through them all. Over­all, I have found Roma­ni­ans to be incred­i­bly friendly peo­ple. I am incred­i­bly excited to go to Bul­garia, a cas­tle or two up north, Con­stanta, and then explore Georgia!

To Travel, or to travel?

08/20/2015, Blog by Jeremy Law­son, Com­puter Sci­ence and Soci­ety, Ethics, and Human Behav­ior, CHID Geor­gia Roma­nia: Con­flict­ing Cur­rents — Roma­nia and Geor­gia in a Tur­bu­lent Black Sea

The Black Sea def­i­nitely wasn’t the first place I thought I’d be vis­it­ing when I decided years ago that I wanted to study abroad. New Zealand, maybe. But some­how, the Roma­nia and Geor­gia pro­gram that I will be leav­ing for in a few days caught my inter­est in its unique focus on cross-cultural study and pol­i­tics. Sure, there may be some sim­i­lar pro­grams out there, but who can say they went to Tbil­isi in col­lege? Besides, no place I can think of has as many his­tor­i­cal cul­tural influ­ences as the Black Sea region, from Greek to Per­sian to Dacian to Ottoman to com­mu­nist, and many more. The archi­tec­ture and cul­ture are bound to be quite interesting.

I think a lot of peo­ple think study abroad is too expen­sive or time-consuming. It isn’t. It’s quite often cheaper than trav­el­ing as a tourist, and I have found the process to be rel­a­tively straight-forward (if almost a year long). If it’s some­thing you want to do, just work towards it early enough and the oppor­tu­nity is there. Apply to a few schol­ar­ships, and you’re set! I knew I wanted to spend my life trav­el­ing, the hard­est choice was where to start. But I did have my rea­sons for choos­ing such an uncon­ven­tional program.

I’m excited to see how a spe­cific under­stand­ing of the recent (and long term) promi­nent local issues of the region can help my under­stand­ing of gen­eral issues like nation­al­ism and diver­sity. I spend a lot of my time at home study­ing cur­rent events and dream­ing up solu­tions; but I can’t imag­ine that see­ing only one coun­try could pro­vide all the answers. Even West­ern Europe is poten­tially too sim­i­lar, so I decided to reach a lit­tle fur­ther culturally.

I haven’t been fur­ther out­side the US than Van­cou­ver Island, and I’ve been look­ing for­ward to cul­ture shock essen­tially my whole life. I’ve always wanted to see what else is out there, what other peo­ple see, and what we can learn from them. Roma­nia and Geor­gia, I think those def­i­nitely fit the “dif­fer­ent” bill. I’m incred­i­bly excited to meet the local pro­fes­sion­als, politi­cians, and artists we’ll get to hear from.

I’m def­i­nitely more excited than ner­vous, though I can’t say I can even imag­ine what land­ing in Bucharest is going to be like. It’s not that I’m not even a lit­tle ner­vous, but I guess I’ve been men­tally pre­pared for this for so long, and am fairly good at deal­ing with chang­ing sit­u­a­tions. While I’m guess­ing that helps with travel, pro­gram teach­ers tend to have every­thing set up so that even the most ner­vous of trav­el­ers would be okay. That said, poten­tially hav­ing to get to the hotel on our own as soon as we land feels a lit­tle like the Amaz­ing Race. I love it.

The one thing I am ner­vous about is the lan­guage. If there’s any­thing I wish I’d done, it’s spend the months before my trip really get­ting to know the local lan­guages (as much as can be done in a few months). Because of excuses such as “full time job” and “other projects”, I’ve had to do most of my study­ing in a few weeks, includ­ing learn­ing an entirely new alpha­bet. The sav­ing grace is the class some of us took in the spring, which has given me a decent foun­da­tion, and it sounds like a lot of Roma­ni­ans speak Eng­lish. Still, I’m not even sure I could order a sand­wich, and am hop­ing that lan­guage learn­ing hap­pens as eas­ily (well, that’s a rel­a­tive word) as peo­ple say it does when thrown into it.

In the end, I don’t really know what to expect. I prob­a­bly won’t be able to sleep the night before my flight! I’m hop­ing to open my mind to other ideas and beliefs out there, through more than just tourist attrac­tions. Travel isn’t just about see­ing, it’s about get­ting to know peo­ple, and see­ing your own home from an out­side per­spec­tive. I’m sure that I will come home an entirely dif­fer­ent per­son. I can’t say for cer­tain, but I think a lot of Amer­i­cans don’t get “out” enough, and there’s a lot we could learn polit­i­cally from the rest of the world. Even if it’s what not to do. I’m hop­ing for some inter­est­ing insights into dif­fer­ent ideas of what “devel­op­ment” is, both socially and tech­no­log­i­cally, and into what it may take for equal­ity to be achieved world­wide, which also depends on other def­i­n­i­tions of the word.

Trav­el­ing through uni­ver­sity pro­grams is not only cheaper, but it’s shap­ing up to pro­vide a much more in depth expe­ri­ence than reg­u­lar tourism!

Leaving for Peru in 5 hours!

This post won’t be very long because I am leav­ing for the air­port in 1 hour. This will also be the last post from me in a long time because I am not bring­ing my com­puter with me on trip. I will be con­stantly remind­ing myself to take pic­tures, how­ever, in order to tell a great story when I get back.

Where should I begin? I pulled off some pack­ing magic yesterday:

IMAG1266      –>    IMAG1271_1     tada!

I’ve spend the last week and a half (essen­tially since I quit my job) either buy­ing things for my trip or men­tally and emo­tion­ally prepar­ing myself for what’s to come. The above pho­tos explain the all the phys­i­cal prepa­ra­tion I had done. Men­tally, I’ve tried to stuff as much adven­ture into my life as possible:

I hiked 11mi. of the Pacific Crest Trail known as the Kendall Kat­walk, get­ting to test out the new hik­ing clothes and pack I had just bought as well as my stale haven’t-hiked-in-a-year body. Every­thing worked great, though I was def­i­nitely hurt­ing after­ward. I wanted to get ready for the long, exhaust­ing, and fan­tas­tic days I have ahead of me. And Mon­day I went sky­div­ing for the first time! Because what bet­ter way to kick off spend­ing a month in Peru? It still blows to mind that I jumped out of an air­plane only 2,000 ft above the ele­va­tion of Cusco. Falling that dis­tance towards the earth made me appre­ci­ate how high up that really is.

Now com­pared to plan­ning and pack­ing, my men­tal prepa­ra­tion sounds like all fun and games. But what I’m the most ner­vous, and even a lit­tle bit sad about, is being away from my boyfriend, Kyle, for a month. It will be the longest time we’ve spent apart in the 16 months we’ve been together. As much as I know the time will fly by in this flurry of a pro­gram, it has been bit­ter­sweet in the last days lead­ing up to my depar­ture. Kyle will be meet­ing me at the air­port today, though, for the real send off! Warn­ing, there may be tears.

Even more fun, my trav­el­ing buddy for the trip is a girl in my pro­gram name Kyle as well! I will be heav­ily rely­ing on her qual­ity knowl­edge of Span­ish to get us through nav­i­gat­ing the air­ports and streets of Lima and Cusco. All right folks, that’s all for now. Look for another post around Sep­tem­ber 22nd. I’ll miss Wash­ing­ton and the tem­per­ate forest’s deep, cushy soil!

 

Best,

Kendall Wig­gins

My Research at Osaka University

Hey UW Both­ell! It’s been quite some time since I have been able to post any­thing. Over the past two months I have been extremely busy fin­ish­ing up my research and wrap­ping up my stud­ies here at Osaka Uni­ver­sity. Now I finally have some time to relax, and with just a week left in Japan I fig­ured I would write about what I’ve been up to.

Over the past five months I have been work­ing in the Depart­ment of Intel­li­gent Media at Osaka Uni­ver­sity, which spe­cial­izes in com­puter vision. The key focus of my lab­o­ra­tory is gait recog­ni­tion, which is a bio­met­ric iden­ti­fi­ca­tion method used to iden­tify peo­ple based on the way they walk. We each walk in our own unique way, and much like our fin­ger­prints and irises, our gait is unique enough to be used to iden­tify us. Gait iden­ti­fi­ca­tion is espe­cially use­ful in the field of law enforce­ment because it is pos­si­ble to iden­tify someone’s gait regard­less of whether that per­son is coop­er­a­tive. For exam­ple, a crim­i­nal might hide their face or wear gloves to cover their fin­ger­prints, but there is no real way for them to cover up their gait.

While most of my lab mates focused on human gait recog­ni­tion, I was assigned the pecu­liar task of research­ing cow gait recog­ni­tion. You might be ask­ing, why would we need to iden­tify cows? Well, an accu­rate means of iden­ti­fy­ing cows could lead to fully auto­mated beef and dairy farms. With beef one of the largest enter­prises in the agri­cul­tural sec­tor, suc­cess­ful automa­tion could com­pletely change the indus­try and ben­e­fit both farm­ers and con­sumers alike.

Unfor­tu­nately, cur­rent gait recog­ni­tion tech­niques achieve unsat­is­fac­tory suc­cess rates when applied to cows. Tech­nolo­gies like Gait Energy Image (GEI) com­par­i­son achieve a suc­cess rate of just 60% when attempted on cows, which is nowhere near enough for any sort of automa­tion. One pos­si­ble rea­son these meth­ods did not work as well on cows as they did on humans, was because of some of the fea­tures of a cow’s walk cycle. Cows tend to move their heads and tails a lot dur­ing their gait, which we felt wasn’t par­tic­u­larly use­ful for identification.

Here is a pic­ture of the dif­fer­ence between two GEIs for the same cow, which illus­trates the prob­lems that the cow’s head can cause for gait iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. The red areas are areas that do not match, and as you can see there is a lot of red around the head of the cow despite the two GEIs belong­ing to the same cow. This dif­fer­ence in the head area could lead to a false iden­ti­fi­ca­tion if not han­dled correctly.

Based on this, my job was to develop an algo­rithm which improved iden­ti­fi­ca­tion suc­cess rates by elim­i­nat­ing the effects of the motion in a cow’s head and tail. I won’t bore you with too many details, but my algo­rithm involved split­ting the GEIs into sub­sec­tions and weigh­ing each sec­tion based on a prob­a­bil­ity den­sity func­tion which was retrieved dur­ing train­ing. This allowed us to dampen the effects of unhelp­ful areas of the GEI while enforc­ing the effects of more help­ful areas, thus improv­ing suc­cess rates. In the end I was able to improve suc­cess rates by about 13% and learn a bunch of things about a cow’s gait that we had not con­sid­ered. For exam­ple, it seems like the torso of the cow would be an excel­lent area for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, but our tests showed that this area was in fact the worst area in terms of suc­cess rates.

A cou­ple of weeks ago I pre­sented my research along­side other study abroad stu­dents in the Fron­tier Lab pro­gram, and I sub­mit­ted my final report just a few days ago. All that’s left now is to doc­u­ment my final code for any future stu­dents who are inter­ested in con­tin­u­ing this work. The expe­ri­ence as a whole was a ton of work, but I learned a lot about work­ing in a research envi­ron­ment, and I was able to pick up some great tech­niques for var­i­ous aspects of research which will no doubt help me in my future career.

Thanks for reading!

So long, South Africa!

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been back in Seat­tle for almost a week now.  My time in South Africa felt like it lasted months.  There were so many new expe­ri­ences had, new foods to try, and new friends made.  When I left, it almost felt like I was leav­ing home.  It’s amaz­ing how such a short time in a place can make you feel so con­nected to it.

The lec­tures at the con­fer­ence were very stim­u­lat­ing, but the real immer­sive part of this expe­ri­ence was get­ting to know the peo­ple and cul­tures of South Africa.  I will always remem­ber my new friends try­ing to help me pro­nounce “Xhosa” or “Qwaqwa” with the cor­rect click sounds from the Xhosa or Basotho lan­guages, respec­tively.  I never did get it right, but I sure had fun try­ing!  I’ll always remem­ber the drums they wel­comed us with at the Qwaqwa cam­pus, as well as the spon­ta­neous danc­ing and singing that erupted every so often at dif­fer­ent events.  What a beau­ti­ful culture!

While I was in Bloem­fontein, many South Africans I spoke with rec­om­mended that I visit Cape Town while there.  I fig­ured, “When else will I be here?” and went for it.  Cape Town was amaz­ingly beau­ti­ful.  It was like step­ping into a post­card.  One of the great things about study abroad is that it brings you to these amaz­ing places, and often-times you have the free­dom to explore wher­ever else you would like to on your way to the place, or before going home.

 

On the flight home, I flew over the North Pole.  I never really thought about it, but it is actu­ally shorter to fly from Seat­tle to the Ara­bian Penin­sula (I had a lay­over in Dubai on both my out­bound and inbound flights) by fly­ing over the North Pole.  It was very cool to see the ice cov­er­ing that part of the world.  I almost half-expected to see some polar bears down there!

20150722_191924

It’s good to be home, but I left a lit­tle piece of my heart in South Africa.  I hope to return there at some point in the future.

 

Italy will always have a Pisa my heart

16/07/2015

Buonasera! (Good evening!)

I can’t believe how fast time is fly­ing by! This past week has been hec­tic due to tomor­row being the last day of class (Yay and Boo)! These past two weeks or so, I’ve been to the Colos­seum, seen the Statue of David, and many more. Flo­rence was INCREDIBILY AMAZING. Every aspect of it left me with want­ing to roam around more. Sadly, I was only there for two days. The fol­low­ing day, me and a few other stu­dents went to Pisa. It was a short day trip, but we were able to squeeze in some good food and of course, take silly pho­tos at the Lean­ing Tower of Pisa (pic­tures below). As the pro­gram is wrap­ping up, I am bit­ter­sweet about leav­ing Rome. I now only have 4 days left in Rome and then I will be trav­el­ing to France (Yay!!). Gra­zie (for reading) :)

Check out the program’s blog!Fun @ Pisa

Life in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

The city I’m study­ing abroad in is called Bishkek. The city is beau­ti­ful. It has every­thing you can think of: beau­ti­ful tall moun­tains, lakes, parks, good restau­rants and malls. It’s a blend of a lively metrop­o­lis and beau­ti­ful nature.

The daily life for me is Russ­ian classes in the morn­ings, for five hours. Then, some stu­dents who live in the dorms (which are located inside the school’s build­ing) will usu­ally take an hour-long nap and then do other things. Some of the stu­dents work out in the gym after­school. Oth­ers will go to Sierra cof­fee shop, which is the most West­ern cof­fee shop around, to relax and study.

I live with a host fam­ily. Both of my host par­ents work Mon­day through Fri­day 8am – 6pm. They usu­ally get home by 7pm and we eat din­ner by 8pm together. Dur­ing din­ner time, they would ask me how school was, how were my classes and this opens up the chance for me to talk Russ­ian. Occa­sion­ally they would go out­side in the evenings, for a walk. They invited me and I went with them a few times. Those evenings walks are my favorite because not only do I get to prac­tice my Russ­ian, but I also get to know about their life and their cultural/personal beliefs.

The aca­d­e­mic expe­ri­ence is great as well. I thought, prior to com­ing to Bishkek, that I would be in a class with at least five other stu­dents. But, when I got here, my pro­gram coor­di­na­tor told me that based on my Russ­ian Place­ment Test, she orga­nized one-on-one classes for me. And this works great because the teach­ers teach by my pace and they focus more on things that I need help on rather than teach exten­sively things I already am famil­iar with.

Experiences…

experience experience 3
experience 2 experience1

Where do I even begin? I’ve been so busy expe­ri­enc­ing the many won­der­ful things that South Africa has to offer that I can’t even decide what expe­ri­ence to share. For that rea­son, I will share a lit­tle bit of every­thing. The top two pho­tos are the Golden Gate Moun­tains located in Free State, South Africa. I was able to cap­ture these beau­ti­ful pic­tures on my way to Phutha­ditjhaba where the Uni­ver­sity of the Free State (UFS) QwaQwa cam­pus is located. The QwaQwa cam­pus is one of three UFS cam­puses, which requires me to write another blog post because I can’t even explain how amaz­ing that cam­pus is! The bot­tom left pic­ture is when I attended a TEDx on the Bloem­fontein cam­pus. Var­i­ous pre­sen­ters spoke on the sub­ject of ask­ing the ques­tion why. What made this evening mem­o­rable is that I expe­ri­enced load shed­ding for the first time of my life. For those of you who don’t know what load shed­ding is I will give a brief expla­na­tion. Load shed­ding is when the elec­tric­ity com­pany does not have enough elec­tric­ity to pro­vide to the demand of all their cus­tomers. In order to meet demand, the elec­tric­ity com­pany inter­rupts sup­ply to cer­tain areas dur­ing a spe­cific time. In my case, I expe­ri­ence load shed­ding on a Thurs­day from 6-8pm. Load shed­ding in South Africa is impor­tant in order to bal­ance elec­tric­ity sup­ply and demand, includ­ing to avoid the col­lapse of elec­tric­ity sup­ply. Even though load shed­ding hap­pened dur­ing the TEDx event, we con­tin­ued the pre­sen­ta­tions and had din­ner in the dark (pic­ture on the bot­tom right).

Tears and Tapas: Part 2

When Gladys and I woke up in the morn­ing, we real­ized that we prac­ti­cally fasted by acci­dent for 24 hours and started feast­ing on trail mix while we decided on break­fast. We ate at the hotel buf­fet and made plans to meet up with Jaynie and Amy, two other mem­bers of our group. The hotel shut­tle went down­town and appar­ently dropped us off in the mid­dle of nowhere. Gladys and I spent about an hour try­ing to fig­ure out buses to get from mid­dle of nowhere to mid­dle of some­where to meet Jaynie and Amy. To our sur­prise, the bus dropped us off in the mid­dle of some­where so we adven­tured around while we waited. We ended up at this beau­ti­ful palace. Pics.

Palacio Real de Madrid

Pala­cio Real de Madrid (inside fence)

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Pala­cio Real de Madrid (outside)

We got slightly lost then made our way to Plaza Mayor. I had paella for the first time and it was bomb. It was a tapa which is a huge thing in spain… Very afford­able and very deli­cious. I also had a fresa (straw­berry) juice which is always my favorite. We met Jaynie and Amy and adven­tured around some more get­ting very lost and lead­ing to naps in the park.

After the adven­ture, Gladys and I went to the gro­cery store to get some food for the hotel. As we exited, the streets were absolutely crowded. No one could move. Is this how it always is in Madrid?? Appar­ently there was a “spe­cial reli­gious per­son”. Gladys and I made our way out of the human wall suc­cess­fully and began our trek to where the hotel shut­tle would pick us up.

It was a long walk, espe­cially hav­ing to haul gro­ceries, so we took the metro for the first time which was fairly easy to nav­i­gate. We then had about an hour and a half to wait for the shut­tle. After many fancy dressed peo­ple walked by, wed­ding pho­tos taken, and a dis­cus­sion with a nice old man, we had about ten min­utes for the shut­tle to arrive so we kept our eyes peeled.

Puerta de Alcalá A popular place for wedding photos in Madrid, Spain. Also where Gladys and I waited 90 minutes for a disappearing shuttle

Puerta de Alcalá
A pop­u­lar place for wed­ding pho­tos in Madrid, Spain. Also where Gladys and I waited 90 min­utes for a dis­ap­pear­ing shuttle

A few min­utes later and Gladys spot­ted the hotel shut­tle. Leav­ing. It didn’t even go past us it just went to the other side and left with­out stop­ping! A lit­tle pan­icked, we decided to wait a bit to see if it came back. It passed on the other side of the round­about. And never came back. We decided that our only choice was to hail a cab. We didn’t even know how to hail a cab! Gladys and I finally walked up to a cab that was parked at a stop­light. Then we real­ized another prob­lem: we didn’t know where the hotel was. For­tu­nately, we had the phone num­ber and the cab dri­ver was kind enough to use his phone to call the hotel and ask for the address (even though we were being charged for that dura­tion of time. Ugh).

The next day we decided to just stay back at the hotel and relax. We went to the pool, did some home­work, and had much less stress.

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I’ve heard many things about study­ing abroad. For instance, it is a life chang­ing expe­ri­ence that may change a per­son as well as his/her views. Also that a lot of stress may come with it on top of the amaz­ing expe­ri­ences. Either way, I’m really look­ing for­ward to the rest of this adven­ture… As long as there are a lot less tears and a lot more of those tapas.