Don't be
dismayed at goodbyes,
A farewell is necessary before
you can meet
And meeting
again, after moments or
lifetimes, is certain for
those who are

- Richard Bach

Sunday, July 31, 2011

I'll be home soon

It's the last day of July, and in less than 24 hours I'll be taking off from Frankfurt and heading back to Toronto. I'm quite sad to be leaving this beautiful experience behind, but at the same time, quite ready to come back. Being in limbo for the past month here in Crete - living out of suitcases, not being able to cook food at home, and not being able to settle into a place as it's just a hotel room has been quite taxing, thus the desire to come back to a "home" and settle in somewhere. At the same time, these past months have been so different from any kind of life I've experienced before. Having gained so much new knowledge - with robotics, with computer vision, with Germans, with Greeks, with adapting, with being a foreigner with many things; having experienced so many new things, events, flavours, sights and sounds; and sharing it all with someone so dear to me, has been an experience I will cherish forever.

Tallying up the results from the poll, it seems that "Things Learned" came in at number one - and so it shall be. For the next little while I shall write about all the things I've learned in my last 5 months abroad. I hope I don't bore you too much, as I'll be discussing machine learning, mobile robotics, computer vision, ROS, OpenCV, C++ and many, many more nerdy things that I've learned... you asked for it. :-P

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Auf Wiedersehen

Wow. Last time I blogged here was over two months ago, and yet it feels like just yesterday I was waiting in anticipation for Tina's arrival.

Since then school got progressively busier and busier - assignments got harder and harder - and free time seemed to have disappeared completely. Any opportunity we had for a free evening was spent exploring, going out for dinners or catching up on homework. Every weekend was spent travelling and experiencing Europe to the fullest extent possible. So much so, that I have spent many hours stressing out about not having enough time to do the one thing I came here to do - study; but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to explore and travel and experience Europe, especially with Christina by my side.

So, let me reflect on what has happened since my last post. So many experiences were crammed in the last two months, it's hard to imagine it all really happened. First weekend after Tina's arrival we visited Köln, and checked out an underground anarchist party at Odonien. The next weekend we went to Berlin to check out the history, the fashion and the club scene. The weekend after that we went to München and Schwangau to check out the Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein castles. The week after that Tina was at a conference in London, so I caught up with her on the weekend and we checked out London's history, architecture, food, fashion and the DnB scene. The last weekend in June we went to a massive three-day rock concert called Rock am Ring at the Nürburgring. And the weekend after that, we squeezed in one more trip to a castle in Colmberg, where we stayed for a night, to get a first-hand experience of living in a German castle.

Meanwhile, school was getting busier and busier. I was trying to squeeze in homework whenever I could - in the mornings, in the evenings... on a plane, or on a train... in the sun, or in the rain... it was always such a pain. On top of everything, once July rolled around, I started another summer school course in Data Mining, which rendered my free time completely nonexistent. Summer school ran every day from 9am to 6pm, which left me completely burnt out and exhausted. My courses in Learning and Adaptivity and Mobile Robots were wrapping up, and exams were just around the corner. Between studying for exams, I was working on a project for the summer school course, which turned out to be quite fun (for anyone curious, I can give more insight, but basically we used some algorithms to determine the reading ease of tweets and charted them across time). Also, at least once a week during July there were summer events happening at the school, which was pretty much the only thing that kept us sane and entertained.

Last week in Bonn was exhausting. I had a presentation for the summer school project on Tuesday, an oral exam on Wednesday (which I've never done before), a written one on Thursday, and we were leaving Friday morning. Between all that I had to take care of running around to wrap up all the paperwork in Bonn - closing accounts, registrations and wrapping up with the dorm. It was all happening so fast, I hardly had a second to sit down and process what was going on. On Thursday we went out with our friends from Bonn as a farewell thing and got pretty drunk, so leaving on Friday morning was a bit difficult.

Once all our stuff was packed up, all my things taken down from the walls, all the furniture rearranged back into it's original configuration, it hit me - I'm leaving Bonn. I haven't really had any time to process what was going on, so when it happened, it hit me really hard - I'm gonna miss it... A LOT! I left the keys in the room, and as I shut the door behind me for the last time, I felt tears in my eyes. I had an amazing time in Germany - an experience like no other - and having to close that chapter of my life so soon after it began was incredibly sad. Although, come to think of it, I would have been sadder if I had stayed longer, because I grew attached. I fell in love with a different world - a different life - a different... everything, and having to say 'good bye' to it all was very difficult. Traveling around as a tourist, you come and go from places, and even though you love them, you're never really attached in any sort of way. But having spent four months there - having made a home and friends, having shared experiences, having learned and experienced so much... it was painful having to disassemble it all, pack it all up, and leave. I'm generally a social person, but it still takes me some time to find people I really gel with, and having found a group of really cool guys and gals, having broken the barrier (for the second time in my life) of being a foreigner, and made friends with some really amazing people, was making it that much harder to leave Bonn. Deep down inside I know I'll be back, as there is still so much to see in Germany - in Berlin, and Bavaria, and many other places that we didn't get to, but having built something for myself in this new, unfamiliar place, and having to pack it all up was a very new experience for me - and a very sad one.

Even the weekend of our leaving Bonn was an exceptionally busy one. On Friday we took a train to Frankfurt and flew into Amsterdam. Arriving in the early evening, we literally just had enough time to walk around downtown for a bit, and enjoy a meal and some dessert. On Saturday we were going to a party I've been looking forward to checking out for ages - Sensation White. Since the party started in the evening, we had a bit of time during the day to once again check out downtown, and even meet up with an old friend from Canada. Seeing a familiar face in a totally unfamiliar land was a refreshing change, and a very welcome one. We had a few drinks together, and afterwards headed off to our respective parties. Sensation was unbelievable, but came to an end much too soon, as at 6am we had to book out of the party, and back to the hotel to grab our things and be at the airport for 7. Then - Amsterdam to Frankfurt, and a few hours later Frankfurt to Heraklion, Creete, where we are now.

And so I'm setting up homebase here for the next month while taking a course in Computer Vision at the Foundation for Research & Technology - Hellas (FORTH). It's a totally different vibe here than in Bonn. Everything is much more relaxed, much more laid back, and obviously, the weather here is non-stop sun. Every day after school we go to the beach for a swim, and to just bum around on the beach. Every evening we indulge in a 3-hour dinner (as I said, everything here is veeery laid back… sometimes to a fault), and during the day, when it's way too hot to be outside, while everyone on the island has a siesta, I do some research and coding in OpenCV. That's the new thing I'm learning here in the realm of Computer Vision. So far, I've learned how to read images, check histograms, and compare them with each other, which allowed me to parse out a picture of us from Sensation into little blocks, compare the histograms of those little blocks to every single picture we took at the party, to find one that matches best, and build a picture out of those smaller images. It's not much, but it's research!!

Click for a better view

Monday, May 2, 2011


This morning, is a really special one for me. In fact, I can hardly contain myself from excitement as I watch my countdown app tick down from months, to mere hours. What am I counting down to? I'm counting down to a visit from a very special girl, who will be staying with me here for the remainder of my trip. She has been a big part of my experience here already, and will become an even bigger one when she arrives tomorrow morning, so I feel a blog entry is appropriate to share this joy.

When I first arrived here, It was still quite cold. In fact, even now with temperatures reaching as high as 20ºC, it's still extremely cold at home. They're renovating the building, and stripped off all the insulation from the outside. It's freezing at night, and even during the day sitting at my desk, it can still get quite chilly. The first week I was here, I was saying how cold I am, to which she said she wished to warm me up with a hug, but that it would have to wait a few months. The next week I received a package in the mail from an unknown sender. I was extremely confused coming home with it as the whole way I was trying to figure out what it is and who had sent it. When I got home and began unpacking it, I found a shipping slip from, so I knew it was an online order. When I finally opened it up, I found a fleece blanket inside. I absolutely melted as I knew exactly who had sent it. It has been keeping me warm every night since, and thus has made my experience here that much more pleasant and warmer. Every time I wrap myself in the blanket, I can feel the love and care envelop me, and a big smile spreads across my face.

Last month I received another package in the mail - also from my sweetheart. This time, however, it had her return address on it, so I knew right away whom it was from, and was dying with anticipation to get home to open it. As I slowly cut the top off the envelope and opened it, the smell of her sweet perfume filled my room, and my knees buckled. I removed the delicately wrapped gift and lost myself in the moment for a while. Nobody has ever done anything like this for me. Granted, I've never been away from my friends and family like this, but I know receiving this attention and care while being so far away has been keeping me somewhat sane. There have been quite a number of times when I felt extremely lonely and isolated, so having this warmth and attention from someone so far away brought us that much closer and helped me feel not so far away.

The gift this time was a scarf. But not in the traditional sense of a scarf, but in a really cool, fashionable sense - not so much for practical warmth, more for a sexy look... which I think I pull off quite well.

Alright, cockiness aside, I just think the scarf looks cool. It has a cross section of a black shell on it - so it's decorative like a necklace (and I do like necklaces), it's reversible - black and silver, and my girl likes it. And that makes me happy.

And now, in a few short hours, she will wake up and go to the airport, where a plane will whisk her away to Frankfurt and close the distance of 6300km to a mere 131km. By tomorrow morning 8am she will be on a train to Bonn to close that final distance to zero, when I can finally wrap my arms around her as she steps off that train and give her all my love and she has been giving me hers.

I Love You, Christina. Can't wait to see you. ^_______^

Friday, April 29, 2011

Microblogging 101

Today at school I learned that the guys in the RoboCup lab used to call me "that hipster from Canada" before they learned my name... can you believe it!?

I tried to debunk that status by showing them that my jeans are not tight, I do not wear Converse, and I have giant headphones not to look cool, but because I DJ, and I listen to... "Death Cab For Cutie", exclaimed one of the guys, giving me a sarcastic smile. "C'mon man", I rebutted, pointing to my Jimi Hendrix t-shirt, "I only listen to good music."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

I Love the Smell of Europe in the Morning


How does one convey an aroma over a digital medium?

I've been struggling enough as it is conveying the feeling that Europe gives me, but certain sights can be captured with pictures and videos, certain experiences can be retold in words, and certain tastes can be described - granted that the reader has tasted the same thing at some point in their life. But a scent... this, is challenging.

It's not just a single smell that I can ask you to recollect, like the smell of freshly cut grass in the summer, or the smell of campfire at night, that we're all so familiar with. It's a symphony of flavour that fills me with a strange longing. I don't know what it is that I long for when I smell it - perhaps to be part of this European experience for the rest of my life, perhaps to taste the sweetness in this air every day, perhaps to share this with my friends and loved ones, perhaps to hold my sweethearts hand while walking down these cobblestone streets shaded by the bright pink blossoms.

But the picture doesn't quite capture the smell that is in the air. It is this magical scent of a number of different things combined:

It's the smell of fresh grass. It smells green. It smells like spring. It smells fresh - like crisp lettuce or a cold cucumber salad. It makes you want to eat it.

It's the smell of the sun. It smells yellow. It feels warm and comforting. It smells like the beach does when the air is still. It smells like the ground that's been baking in the sun all day. It smells like the earth. It makes you want to face the sun and let it kiss your face.

It's the smell of the sky. It smells blue. It smells fresh - like a cool breeze blowing in from the lake. It smells like the clouds - soft and fluffy. It makes you wish you had long flowing hair and a convertible car so that you could drive around and let the wind play with your hair.

It's the smell of freshly baked bread (Germans love their bread - there's a bakery on every corner). It smells orange. It smells like home. It smells delicious. It smells like the earth and wheat and fire combined. It makes you want to break into a loaf of freshly baked bread to hear the crunch and smell the rising steam.

It's the smell of espresso. It smells dark, rich and delicious. It tastes like chocolate. I don't drink coffee, and yet I still love the smell. It smells invigorating. It makes you want to sit on a terrace and slow time down even if only for five minutes while enjoying a cup.

It's the smell of barbecues, charcoal, and burning wood. It smells red. It smells hot and delicious. It smells like cooked meat and grilled vegetables. It tastes like grilled zucchini, or a roasted red pepper, or black olives (a very Mediterranean flavour). It tastes like a homemade burger made with fresh ingredients (something I'm sure we all haven't experienced in a while) being chased with a cold beer.

It's the smell of blooming flowers. It smells pink. It smells cute and pretty. It tastes like cotton candy, and makes you want to lick it. It reminds you of all those times someone dear to you bought you flowers. Or you buying flowers for someone dear to you and the aroma filling the air. It makes your heart sing with love.

It's the smell of lilacs. It smells purple. It smells fresh and clean - like the smell after rain. It feels soft and delicate. It makes you want to go outside and just breathe this fresh air before the pollution of the city sets in again.

It's the smell of this rainbow combined into one. It smells like... Europe. Anyone who's been here will know what I'm talking about - there's a scent here - a heavenly, delicious aroma that just slows you down. It's near impossible to be stressed out with this smell around. Even if you were rushing somewhere, you'll involuntarily slow down to a pace dictated by this scent. It makes you appreciate the flowers, the sun, the wind, the grass, and everything in between. It tempts you with any open seat on a patio to revel in these moments.

Until the technology for bottling this European scent is possible, I'll leave you with my favourite scent of spring - the smell of lilacs. This calming, soothing fragrance comes closest to capturing the feeling this European air brings me. And given it's lilac season now, next time you pass by a lilac bush (sorry for the cliché) - slow down and smell the flowers.

Now that lilacs are in bloom
She has a bowl of lilacs in her room
And twists one in her fingers while she talks.
"Ah, my friend, you do not know, you do not know
What life is, you who hold it in your hands";
(Slowly twisting the lilac stalks)
"You let it flow from you, you let it flow,
And youth is cruel, and has no remorse
And smiles at situations which it cannot see."
I smile, of course,
And go on drinking tea.
"Yet with these April sunsets, that somehow recall
My buried life, and Paris in the Spring,
I feel immeasurably at peace, and find the world
To be wonderful and youthful, after all."

- T. S. Eliot, Portrait of a Lady

Saturday, April 2, 2011

How does it feel?

How does it feel...
To be on your own...
With no direction home...
A complete unknown...
Like a rolling stone...