Sunday, August 15, 2010

Extreme Ironing in Oregon

I happened to be at a conference in Boston in June and it was a great opportunity to go hiking with Kolo afterwards, since he's living in Boston. We decided to go to Oregon and Washington on the west coast. I also met again CouchSurfers Adam, Grady and Jesse, who crashed at my place two years ago.

Adam and Jesse surprised us by picking us up at the airport. Later that day I also met Grady but he wasn't joining us for our trip, since he was off to Alaska. We played frisbee for a while and then prepared for the trip.

The next day we hiked the Eagle Creek trail, which is situated in a steep canyon. The topic of the day was extreme ironing. We had a lot of ideas for this extreme sport, but none of them turned out to be new. Apart from that we had some nice views, there was water everywhere and a huge waterfall at the end. Only Adam had the courage to swim in the creek, the rest of us just washed ourselves. Cool water, cool trip.

Later, when we tried to get some water at a camping place, we met the owner who didn't like what we were doing. He said that our license place was on file, but I heard "on fire". How could possibly our license plate be on file or on fire? Both didn't make sense, so we let it go. Before we found a spot for our camp, we saw Mt. Adams (12,281 ft; 3,743 m) in its entire beauty.

Our main goal was to climb Mt. Adams. The weather this year was crazy. The mountains received a lot of snow in May and June, so the avalanche danger was a bit high. The lady at the ranger station in Trout Lake warned us but we decided to give it a shot. We parked our car at Morrison Creek (4700 ft, 1400 m), since we couldn't continue to Cold Springs due to snow. On our way up we met two snowboarders on their way back from the summit. They said that the route is safe and there is no avalanche danger. Around 7pm we arrived to South Butte and decided to build a camp. The wind started to blow really strong, so we had to build windshields around our tents and also put the tents deep in the snow. We didn't have enough water, because we didn't find the spring at Cold Springs and it took long to melt snow with only one stove. The melted water tasted like sulphur, since we were on a volcano.

We decided to attack the moutain at 2:30 in the morning, so that we could walk on frozen snow. Even though it was quite cold and I had 1kg of snow to melt inside my sleeping bag, it was still hot inside and I didn't manage to sleep. The weather was almost perfect. Clear sky, -1 degree, but the wind was still very strong. We finally left the base camp at 2:45 with our headlamps on.

It was pretty tough. We couldn't stop for more than 2 minutes, because the windchill was so strong. I hoped that the situation would improve with sunrise, but it didn't. Jesse took a lot of pictures and his gloves weren't that good, so his hands were cold. At that time the wind was so strong that it almost blew me off from the path. Since I had experience with frostbites, I decided to descend with him and help him in the camp. We all high-fived, since we reached 10000 feet (3000 m) and Kolo with Adam continued climbing. Luckily, Jesse's situation turned out not to be serious. Kolo and Adam managed to get to the false summit (11,500 feet; 3,510 m). We all slept in the base camp for a while, until it became hot inside the tents. We descended back to our car and it started snowing right after I put on suncream and felt really hot. Even though we didn't manage to summit, we had a lot of fun, stunning views and we all learned something new.

The plan for the next few days was to climb Mt. Hood (11,249 feet, 3,428.7 m). Jesse and Adam didn't have time to join us, so Kolo and I rented a car and headed to the Mt. Hood area. Weather was pretty bad. It was raining and when we reached 5000 feet, rain changed to snow. The parking lot at Timberline Lodge was covered with 15 cm of new wet snow. It didn't look good for us. New snow means avalanche danger, so the next day we only did a short hike in the safe part. I didn't feel good at all, so I just hiked to 8000 feet and Kolo continued higher. Again, we didn't manage to summit but at least we took some great pictures.

All in all, it was a great week, apart from the donut incident at the aiport. I really like this part of USA and I hope I will return some day. And I would like to thank Jesse and Adam again.

Photos are on Picasa and Flickr.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Asia trip, part 2: Taiwan and Hong Kong

After the World Finals I didn't go back to Sweden, but headed to Taiwan instead. My brother Palo lives there with his girlfriend Angel. We also went to Hong Kong but we will get to that.
It was way below zero when I left Harbin, but 3 hours later I was in Taipei with 25 degrees. My expensive hairstyle was ruined immediately by high humidity. Palo, Angel and her mom picked me up at the airport and we headed out to a restaurant for a proper Chinese New Year's lunch. Angel's two little sisters joined us there. They were 16 and 18, but my guess would be exactly opposite. The older one looked younger. The food was great and after 2 hours of eating I was pretty stuffed. It turned out that I was the only one who still got place for an ice cream. This lunch was definitely one of the highlights of my trip.

Slovak people living in Taipei have a gathering every 2 months and I came on the right day. It was nice but we left before the end, because we had to wake up early the next day. We took an early train to Hualien, which is in the central part of Taiwan Island. If it weren't for the subtropic weather, I could imagine living there. Comparing to Taipei it was not so crowded and not at all busy. We didn't meet any tourists while we were there. The road less traveled is usually the best and this was not an exception.
We also visited Taroko National Park with Angel's friends. The park has high mountains, some around 3800 metres. We stayed here for 2 days and at this point I started to like the Taiwanese food. Moreover, I think I found the one. After 24 years I found my favourite food. It's called "Cheap, Delicious and A Lot" and they have it everywhere. You pay only 1 euro for a great food. Hmm, I'm getting hungry now, I'll be right back.
After we returned to Taipei, I was tired and didn't eat as much as usual. I blame the weather for this. As soon as the temperature decreased below 20 degrees, everything was back to normal. We also went to Taipei 101, the second tallest building in the world. It was pretty impressive. Do you know that it takes only 10 seconds to fall down from the top? The next day we went to a big night market and I got my hair cut. Every day we ate dinner at a night market, because it really doesn't pay off to cook your own dinner.
It was time to leave Taiwan and fly to Hong Kong. By the way, I flew 6 times during my whole trip and 5 times my check-in baggage weighed 19.6 - 19.8 kilos. The only time it weighed more than allowed was when I used my right hand to weigh my baggage while packing. If you need to weigh 20 kg, just ask me or, even better, my left hand.
The Hong Kong part was not as good as the Taiwan part. Taipei is crowded but that's nothing compared to Hong Kong. Before I bought tickets to Hong Kong, I asked Angel what she wants to do there. Her answer was "eating, shopping, eating, shopping, eating, shopping". And that's what we did most of the time. We also visited the zoo and the 12th tallest building in the world. New year means new clothes and the day before Chinese New Year we saw the whole Hong Kong nation shopping.
After two weeks in Asia, it was finally time to fly back to Sweden. My flight was early, so I didn't sleep much but at least I got an upgrade to business class! I slept well in the plane and the food was great. Somehow I managed to fly exactly on the day of Chinese New Year, so I also got a New Year gift. Thank you, DragonAir!
Photos are on Picasa and Flickr.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Asia trip, part 1: Bronze medal

As you may know, our team "!c[_]" from KTH qualified to the ACM ICPC World Finals 2010 in Harbin, China. ACM ICPC is a team programming contest and this year over 22 000 students from 1931 universities participated and 103 teams qualified to Harbin.

I slept only for half an hour in the plane, so when we arrived to Harbin, I got to bed in the hotel right away and woke up right before the registration and dinner. The next day we visited Snow Sculpture park and got a new coach. Fredrik was the technical director of the competition, so he could not be our coach. He found Roy from the Swedish Lund University, who was there as a director of Nordic Programming Contest, and I liked him from the very first moment. He came and told us "Give me 100 pushups each!". Chen and Ulf protested, so I had to make these pushups alone. Anyway, Fredrik didn't have time to train us, so we trained all by ourselves before the competition and we didn't feel like we lost a coach.

On Wednesday the Opening Ceremony was held and we had the first test contest afterwards. After the lunch we continued with building snow sculptures. Teams were supposed to build a long sentence together and our letter was N. My little finger was still affected by the frostbite accident, so I couldn't help even though I wanted. In the evening we went to the Ice World to see ice sculptures. It was great but my camera stopped working after a while in the -25 degree temperature.

Thursday was quite boring except the fact that we won the second practice session. But I have to mention that our definition of winning here is quite the opposite. The "first team in the practice session" is the team which solves all problems but has the biggest penalty time (in real contest you try to achieve the smallest penalty time, of course). I don't know how many teams use this definition, but at least we saw that Warsaw was aiming for big penalty time.

It's Friday, the day of the main competition. I slept well which is always important. When we finally got to our table in the contest arena, I felt that something was going on there. There was a lot of spectators, and photographers and TV cameras everywhere you look.

The start was very good. After about 2 hours we were on the 9th place with 4 solved problems. In the next two hours we were struggling with other tasks, but none of them was accepted. I went to the toilet a few times to get some fresh ideas but this didn't work as well as in NWERC 2009. In problem B we forgot to add just one line to make our 120-line solution work. My code was shown to the whole world in the webcast as an example of a long solution missing just one line. Finally, 30 minutes before the end, Ulf found the missing line. After 4 hours the scoreboard is frozen so you cannot see the actual results, which makes it more exciting.

In the last hour me and Chen were working on one problem each. 10 minutes before the end, mainly because of desperation, I decided to take a risk and send 4 similar solutions within 30 seconds. They only differed in one number. We were really surprised when one of them was accepted. As it turned out later, the solution ran 9.5 seconds and the time limit was 10 seconds. Our solution was probabilistic and the number I tweaked was the probability of running particular code. If I remember correctly, the correct probability was 1/6.

After the contest ended we were almost sure that 6 solved tasks should be enough for top 20. But of course we wanted top 12, because only top 12 teams get a medal (4 gold, 4 silver and 4 bronze). Chen and Ulf were sceptic about it, since we had big penalty time. Half an hour later, they showed the scoreboard and submitted solutions in the last hour of the contest. They started from the bottom to make it more exciting. After a while we were on 12th place, which means a medal, when only Stanford's submission could ruin all our hopes. It failed, so we got a medal! Even though I knew my frostbite-injured little finger would hurt like hell afterwards, I had to high-five with Ulf, Chen and Roy.

This year the competition was dominated by European and Asian universities. 8 European and 5 Asian universities made it to the top 13 (rant: they gave out 13 medals this year, because ACM ICPC likes to break their own rules). So we defeated all famous American computer science universities like Stanford, MIT, Cornell and Carnegie Mellon! My personal favourite Tsinghua University was only on 6th place, but another Chinese university took the first place  Shanghai Jiaotong University. But at least I got the second place right  Moscow State University.

KTH got a medal again after 4 years and now our school has all three medals. A lot of people congratulated us and a few news articles were written in Sweden. All three of us cannot compete any more, so it was a great ending of our ICPC careers. But after World Finals I became a coach of KTH, so now it's time to train teams which will hopefully qualify to the World Finals.

As usual, photos are on Picasa.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Frostbites in Low Tatras

It's been a long time since Kolo and me went to the mountains together. We decided to go to Low Tatras in Slovakia in winter. This time Martin was supposed to join us, but he got ill just few days before the trip.

So here we are. It's January 2, 2010, 8:00 AM and we start our trip from Čertovica (1238 metres). The beginning is pretty steep, but we are rewarded by great weather with good visibility. There is not much snow, roughly 40 cms and walking is easy. Just after we had put our crampons on, light fog appeared. However, it created a stunning scenery and Kolo spent a lot of time lying on the ground while making pictures with his fixed-length lense.

After the lunch at the mountain hut Štefániková chata, we ascent to the highest mountain of Low Tatras, Ďumbier (2043 metres). We are exposed to fog again, but this time pretty seriously with visibility between 10 and 20 metres. A couple of times I saw only snow and white fog around me, which drove me crazy. It felt like I got blind. After two hours of hiking we managed to get to another mountain hut, Kamenná chata. The fog left marks on our personalities. See photo.

I am not a big fan of panoramatic pictures, but this time I couldn't resist and made one from Chopok (2018 metres), a mountain that is near the hut. Enjoy!

It's three o'clock, just one hour before sunset, so the best option is to sleep in the hut. For the rest of the evening we eat and read. I forgot to take a book and the only thing I had were 2 scientific articles. Still better than nothing, though.

The weather in the morning is exactly the same as the forecast said. -18 degrees and wind speed is 72 kms per hour. And snow and fog. Therefore we decided to descent 500 metres and avoid the highest parts of the ridge. It's hard because we don't see the path and sometimes we have to go in deep snow.

After an hour we finally arrived to Kosodrevina hut. It is a communistic building with a special smell, so we left it as soon as we drank our teas. The next hour was really good, weather improved and we saw the sun for a while. At this moment I thought that we will successfully get to our goal, cottage Ďurková. However, it turned out that the second half of the traversal path has not been used for a while, and thus most of the time we were passing through deep powder snow. Moreover, the wind started to blow again. And it was still damn cold, I would guess -15 degrees. It took us 3 hours to get back to the main ridge, instead of expected 1 hour. In the Poľana saddle we met a group of other tourists. Since it was late, we decided to descent together. At this point I was really exhausted. But luckily I had only to follow other people who knew where to go.

When we got to Jasná, it was already dark and I finally realized what happened to my fingers. It started to hurt. I got blisters on 3 fingers the next day and that means frostbites of second degree. Today is almost a month since the accident and I can use 8 and half fingers for typing -- one hurts just a bit and the other one will need at least another month to recover. The injury was so severe, because the finger was broken a while ago and I cannot move its last part properly. And thus the blood didn't circulate there.

You can now be sure that everytime I will go somewhere in winter I will have at least 2 pairs of good gloves. Yesterday I bought a new pair and tested them in -15 degrees in Stockholm. And tomorrow I'm flying to Harbin, China, where there is -27 at the moment.

See photos on Picasa and Flickr.