Categoryeurope

Paris

The last leg of our trip took us to Paris, and we’d be there on the same day as the Eurocup final between France and Portugal! We were all set to fly there until while having some beer at the Hofbräuhaus in München, I got an e-mail saying our flight was cancelled. Luckily, I knew my way around quite well already, so I booked train tickets right away through Deutsche Bahn. Our route had a transfer at my old stomping grounds – Stuttgart. I barely recognized the place since everything was under construction for Stuttgart 21. When I was there, the main train station hadn’t been renovated and people were protesting all over the place about the whole project. The trains also went a lot faster than I remembered – a whopping 319 km/h.

First order of business after arriving: food. The last two times I was there as a poor student, we never splurged on food, but now as working professionals, I can! Frog legs? Okay.

With the Eurocup games being hosted in France and the terrorist attacks that happened in Paris, there were soldiers on the street in just about every place with crowds. If any terrorist attacks were to happen in Paris, it wouldn’t be during the Eurocup games.

Later that night, we met up with one of our friend’s coworkers for dinner. Time for more food. Escargot? Okay.

Beef tartare? Okay. We all had one for ourselves, and if anything bad were to happen, there was only one washroom in our AirBnB. Would have been game over.

The next day, we went to Versailles. Instead of taking pictures of things, I played Pokemon Go instead. It had just launched in USA, and since I had an account from that launch, I got to play. Everywhere I went, there was Pokemon. Never mind that it was a blazing hot day without much shade in the palace gardens. Gotta catch’em all. It was Pokemon Go everywhere I went – there’s even an arena at the Arc de Triomphe.

Make Napoleon great again!

After all the walking around, it was time for more food. Foie gras this time.

The next day was a trip to the catacombs and saw the skeletal remains of a lot of dead people.

And also visited a famous dead guy: Napoleon.

After that, it was time to go to the fan zone at the Eiffel Tower to watch France VS Portugal. All these people are trying to get in through the many entrances. The police guarding the gate were letting women and children go in without lining out while everyone else had to. Chivalry is alive and well in France.

After a long while of waiting we got in. There were so many people walking on the gravel road that it kicked up so much dust everywhere and it was hard to breathe and I was coughing every few minutes. It wasn’t comfortable at all. There were long lineups everywhere and nowhere to sit. But the atmosphere was really good. Lots of cheering and anticipation for a France win.

A friend of ours, who was coming from another location came too late and couldn’t get into the fan zone to meet up with us. After a grueling ordeal of deciding whether or not to stay or go, we left and watched the game from a small restaurant near our AirBnB.

After Portugal won, people still cheered in the streets and set up firecrackers and stuff. I couldn’t have imagined what it would have been like if France won. All the France fans would have lost their shits and the streets would have been even more rowdy.

The next day, it was time to fly back home, thus ending my 3rd European adventure.

Link to photo album: here

Munich

From Berlin, we made our way to Munich. I didn’t take a lot of pictures here, since I’d been here 3 times before. We did the usual stuff like drinking, eating pork knuckle at the Hofbräuhaus, and visiting Marienplatz.

We also got to check out the Deutsches Museum – it is a museum of all things technology. From stone age technology all the way to current research problems.

While we were in Munich, we watched the game between Germany and France in the Eurocup at a local pub. After Germany lost, everybody was pretty quiet when they left the pub. There was just sadness 🙁

That’s about it for Munich!

Link to photo album: here

Deutsches Panzermuseum

The next excursion from Berlin was the German Panzer Museum. I’ve always wanted to go here ever since I heard about it. It was about a 3-hour drive from Berlin, so this presented a good opportunity for me and my friends to drive on the famous Autobahn. Too bad our rental car was a Volvo and not the Mercedes Benz that we wanted, but we still got to drive really really fast.

The museum focussed on German tank developments since the beginning: World War I. Definitely an awesome museum. I’d recommend it for anyone interested in the subject.

During the interwar period and World War II, the Germans took the tank concept and built it into a very effective war machine. This museum is paradise for tank nerds like me.

This museum is also paradise for mechanical engineers too. Here is an interactive exhibit on the tank’s transmission. Yanking on the lever let you shift gears and one can see how the gears move around through the clear covering. Definitely real cool for people who are into that sort of stuff.

There are lots of tanks here. This is only one of the many rooms.

There’s also an exhibit showing how kids learn how to play war at a young age and it questions the morality whether or not this is okay. Ironically, when we were there, a group of children were going through the whole museum screaming about how the stuff in the museum was the coolest stuff ever.

Right behind that, was an exhibit of guns and how humans engineered death.

The exhibit on how armour piercing rounds work was especially cool.

And also the cool cross-sections.

What’s a tank musum if you can’t actually go inside one?

And of course, one can’t look at tanks without thinking of margaritas and Katy Perry…

After visiting the museum, we stopped in Hamburg to grab a bite to eat. We ate at this restaurant with a mysterious set menu where we knew neither the price nor what we would be served. We ended up eating different kinds of seafood over a few courses (swordfish, among them!), and it was ~40 euros!

Link to photo album: here

Leipzig

While in Berlin, I took the Deutsche Bahn and made a day-trip to Leipzig, where Robocup 2016 was happening. Three years ago, I had visited Eindhoven for the same Robocup competition, so it was pretty cool to go there and check it out again.

The ICE is amazing, but it’s pretty expensive. It costs around ~120 euro to go across the country.

Back at Robocup, I got to see the robots in action once again! I also got to reconnect with a few of the people I used to know at Robocup too.

I also got a bit of time to walk around the city center. Downtown Leipzig isn’t very big, and since I went there on a Sunday, everything was closed and there was almost no one on the streets.

I spent about half a day there, and after that I went back to Berlin.

Link to photo album: here

Berlin

The next destination after Krakow was Berlin (this would be my second time here). First step: go to the Sony Center and have a Bananenweizen because I just can’t get that anywhere else.

There is a Uniqlo here! I wish I got paid to say this, but it’s the greatest clothing chain in existence.

Gotta love these Bierbikes rolling down the street.

Our main reason to come here was join in on the party that is the Eurocup. A giant screen was set up at the Brandenburg Gate just to show the games. The weirdest part, that before the game started, they did Kiss Cams, which was fine, but they did this with straight men too… shudder

We stuck around to watch Poland play against Portugal!

These people know how to chill.

We met some of my friend’s German friends and they took us to a warehouse that was converted into a bar with a giant screen just to watch Germany VS Italy. According to them, going to that place to watch the game has brought them “good luck” when they went to see Germany VS Brazil in 2014. Definitely one of the greatest games of Football I’ve seen – what a close game between Germany and Italy with a 6-5 Germany win after a penalty shootout.

And of course, when in Germany…

Link to photo album: here

Auschwitz

As part of the trip to Krakow, we visited the Auschwitz concentration camp. We bought tickets in advance (guided tour) so we didn’t have to wait in line to buy tickets or anything. An Uber took us from the city center to the entrance (190.70 PLN = ~$49 USD). At the entrance, we were greeted by the icon sign that read “Arbeit macht frei”.

The tour took us to various locations in the camp, where prisoners were experimented on, suffered in standing cells, etc. The guide also explained how the Germans ran the camps day to day, how they used certain prisoners to oversee other prisoners (Kapos), and of course the extermination. One of the most impactful exhibits here was a room full of just shoes – shoes of many who died at the camp. It’s one thing to be told a bunch of numbers of how many died, but it’s another thing to see thousands of shoes just laid out in front of you.

The camp was split into two: Auschwitz I and II, where the main purpose of Auschwitz I was for political prisoners while Auschwitz II was for extermination and forced labour. Originally, Auschwitz I had many one story buildings, but an additional floor was added to increase capacity.

Guardtowers and electrified barbed wire fences prevented escapes. They really thought of everything.

The death wall is where people were lined up to be executed by firing squad.

The next part of the tour took us to Auschwitz II. Railway tracks efficiently brought prisoners directly into the camp. It’s impressive how efficient they were – that’s what made so scary.

As the Allies closed in on the camp, the Germans destroyed many of the buildings to try and hide what they did. But nonetheless, the truth came to light at the end and many of those responsible were tried and executed.

It was really hard to imagine millions of people were killed in this one place alone. People didn’t talk much during the tour as if to informally have a moment of silence for all the victims. There was nothing to be said. Everyone felt the aura of sadness just by being there.

Link to photo album: here

Krakow

In June 2016, I made yet again another trip to Europe! This time, my travels have taken me to Krakow in Poland! I flew Vancouver to Montreal to Paris, AND THEN to Krakow. It took basically a whole 24 hours, but at least I got a $200 Air Canada voucher out of it by volunteering to get bumped to a later flight.

Travel tip: THERE IS UBER IN KRAKOW!!! To go from the airport to the old town, it costed only 25.46 PLN, which is not even $7 USD to go about 12km. That total was split by 3 people, so that’s about $2-something per person.

Our hostel was in the old town, and was in walking distance to the market square.

South of the old town is Wawel Castle.

And it’s got a great view of the Vistula River. It’s a got a great bike/jogging path that runs along it too.

We went on a walking tour to the old Jewish quarter. Since the war, it no longer housed the vibrant Jewish community that once existed.  The Old Synagogue, built in the 15th century still stands today.

The former ghetto now looks like this. Each chair represents 1000 victims.

The tour ended at the former Schindler Factory. It is now the site of museums for art and the history of Krakow. One of the exhibits is a cable car that used to run through the city. The sign says “Use by Jews forbidden”. It’s one thing to hear about what the tour guide says about the holocaust, but this sign was much much more impactful.

A less depressing topic: food. I can’t go to a new place without drinking their beer. I definitely like it a lot better than the beers I can get in North America. And then there’s bread. I really like bread. A local brand of orange juice, called Cappy was amazing too.

Somebody also told me to try perogies, but perogies to me are alright I guess. I also ate some deep fried calf brain. I would not eat that again. One of the restaurants we went to was called Wierzynek, and the cool thing about it is that it’s been around since 1364!

Link to photo album: here

Reise nach Amsterdam

Going to try posting in German and see how that is like!  I welcome any grammar corrections!

Im Juni 2011, bin ich schon nach Amsterdam gegangen, aber dies mal reiste ich nach dem Ende des Roboter-Wettbewerbs mit ein Paar Freunden von dem UBC Thunderbots.  Wir reisten aus Eindhoven nach Amsterdem mit dem Zug, und am etwa 11 Uhr kamen an.  Weil ich hier einmal gegangen bin, erinnere ich sich ein Paar Orte wie Sehenswürdigkeiten und Restaurants wo ich gegessen hatte.

Es passiert einfach so, dass gleichzeitig mein Freund aus Hongkong nach Amsterdam gereist hatte, so traf ich mich mit ihm. Ich hatte nicht in 3 Jahren ihm gesehen, so es ziemlich cool war ihn zu sehen.  Ich konnte den Anschluss mit ihm finden.

Weil der Roboter-Wettbewerb gerade beendet war, hatten viele Mitbewerber danach nach Amsterdam gereist, und so manchmal sahen wir sie.  Es war ein bisschen seltsam sie zu sehen, weil normalerweise ich nur in dem Wettbewerb sie sehe.

Letzte mal war das Rijksmuseum noch nicht geöffnet.  Obwohl es jetzt geöffnet war, besuchte ich nicht weil, Kunstmuseen für mich zu langweilig sind.

Wie eine Person aus Amsterdam, fuhren wir Fahrräder herum der Stadt. Die orange Farbe passte sehr gut. Weil einer unserer Freunde krank war, konnten wir nicht so viel Fahrräder fahren.

Wir fuhren auch mit dem Boot auf die Amstel und hatten die Kanäle gesehen. Viele Leute wohnen anscheinend in Häuser auf dem Fluss!

Abends, gehen wir zum Rotlichtviertel. Meine Freunde trollten mir über Dinge dass im Rotlichtviertel passiert. Ich sagte dass, “wenn ihr später mich nicht seht, werdet ihr wissen wo ich bin”. Das Rotlichtviertel war wie Leute sagten: viele Prostituierte, Marihuana, und Sex-Shows.

Der nächste Tag war der letzte Tag unserer Reise. Wir fuhren zum Flughafen und flogen nach Vancouver zurück. Während des Flugs, vermisste ich sofort Europa. Ich liebte das Reisen in Europa und hoffentlich in der Zukunft, werde ich noch einer Gelegenheit nach Europa zu reisen haben.  Für die nächsten Tage, dachte ich über Europa die ganze Zeit, und ich wollte zurückfahren.  Auch jetzt, dachte ich an meine Erfahrungen zurück und es war eine der besten Erfahrungen meines Lebens.

Fotoalben: hier

RoboCup 2013 in Eindhoven

After a year of hard work redesigning our soccer robots, it was time to take them to the real competition.  Last year, the team went to Mexico City, but this year, we went to Eindhoven, Netherlands to compete. The event was so well known, that even the queen of the Netherlands paid a visit to the competition!

We had spent a whole year upgrading everything.  I designed a new ball kicking system that was more durable, more maintenance free, and more powerful than the year before.  The other mechanical systems were more robust as well.  The electrical system also had a huge upgrade.  Burning and smoking electrical boards were a thing of the past!  We have never had a design this robust – ever!

What is RoboCup?

For those who don’t know what RoboCup is, RoboCup is an international robotics competition aimed to further robotics research.  Their long-term goal is to have robots beat the World Cup Soccer team winners by 2050. There are various leagues within RoboCup, such as in robotic soccer (where we participate), home care, rescue, simulation, etc.  Our team, the UBC Thunderbots, compete in the small-size soccer league, which is probably has the fastest game play of all the different leagues.  The robots are generally cylinders with a diameter of about 18 cm and a height of 15 cm.  They can move at around 4 m/s and kick a golf ball at 8 m/s.

One of the other leagues, the Standard Platform League competes with standardized robots for all teams and the key difference between each is the software that is written for the robots.

Another league, the mid-size league in RoboCup Soccer competes with robots that are about a 1/3 of the size of a person. The game isn’t as quick as the small-size league game and they play with a real soccer ball instead of a golf ball. During the competition, it gathered quite the crowd too.

Preparing for the Games

Most teams arrived at the venue when it opened to get to work right away. Everybody wanted their robots in tip-top shape. Our team did the same. Even though our robots were ready mechanically and electrically, the key game changer was seeing which team had better artificial intelligence for their robots. Whenever got time to test on the field, we took advantage of it to make sure our AI was working well too.

Round Robin

In the round robin stage, each team gets four games against other teams in their bracket. Each bracket is made up of five teams and the skill level is spread out based on the rankings of the previous year.

We lost our first two games against a team called KIKS from the Toyota National College of Technology in Japan, and a team called STOx’s from the Universidad Santo Tomás in Colombia. In both of those games, we were simply outplayed because the other team had better software than we did. At the end of the game against the Japanese team, I spoke a bit of my horrible Japanese to them and they were super surprised and impressed that I knew a bit of Japanese!

Because our robots were finished not long before the competition began, the software team did not get a chance to test the code that was written, and so we found out the problems during the competition. Our robots were never able to drive up to a ball and take possession of it. The robots somehow always missed the ball. When the robot had the ball, it didn’t know what to do with it. It sat there holding onto the ball doing nothing. This was so frustrating for our team and even more so for the software team who wished they had more time to test.

We won our next two games against two lower tier teams. One is called RoboFEI, from the Centro Universitário da FEI in Brazil, and a team called RFC Cambridge from Harvard and MIT. It’s nice to be able to say that we beat a team from these two ivy league schools. Looks good when we look for sponsors too!

Lucky Loser Round

Because we had a 2-2 record during the group stage, we played a fifth game, the so-called Lucky Loser Round, to see if we could qualify for the quarter finals. Our match up was against a team called ODENS from the Osaka Electro-Communication University in Japan.  The game was so close that there was a dispute about the rules and whether what our team did was legitimate. Because our robots were not able to move up to a ball and shoot it at the net during the shootout, the referee introduced a workaround that the other team disputed.

Our referee’s native tongue was Portuguese, we spoke English, and the other team spoke Japanese. I didn’t know enough Japanese to translate. Eventually, members from other teams like the Thai and Chinese team came to help with the dispute. During the discussion that took about an hour, I heard people speak English, Japanese, Portuguese, Thai, Japanese, and Mandarin all at the same time. It seemed like nobody had the full picture of what was happening and how to resolve it.

The dispute was resolved when both teams agreed to a specific workaround that made it possible for our robots to do shootouts.  The game ended with a shootout and we lost on the very last shot of the shootout unfortunately. We almost made it to 8th place.  Still, achieving 9th place out of 22 teams was the best that the team has ever done before.

The Competition Ends

Skuba, from Kasetsart University in Thailand, had won the competition for four years in a row since 2009, but this year they had a surprising finish that was not even the top 4.  The second place team, ZJUNlict from Zhejiang University in China had beat them early in the quarterfinals.  ZJUNlict’s strongest opponent this year was CMDragons, from Carnegie Mellon University in USA.  In the final round, they were tied for the entire game and the game went to shootouts where CMDragons lost by one goal.  ZJUNlict had made first place in the RoboCup 2013 in the Small Size League.

As the competition came to a close, we said goodbye to the people on other teams that we met and as a parting gift from the German team ER-Force, they gave us a German flag with the names of all their team members signed onto it, with the message, “for our amazing friends, the Thunderbots, from team ER-Force”.

I realized now that the competition is over, I probably wouldn’t be going to competitions in the future because I’ve graduated from university. It made me feel a little bit sad that I couldn’t compete anymore, but at least I can still help out the team wherever they need it.

Link to photo album here

RoboCup Workshop in Mannheim

After two weeks of travelling in Europe, the next part of my journey was to participate in the RoboCup competition.  The team that I am part of, the UBC Thunderbots, would be participating in the RoboCup 2013 competition in Eindhoven.  But before that began, we spent a few days in Mannheim play a few games with two of the German teams: ER-Force from the Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen and the Mannheim Tigers from the Duale Hochschule of Baden Württemberg.

This gave us a lot of opportunities to find out what was wrong with our robots before the real competition began. We found out that are mechanical and electrical systems were quite robust, while our software system was the weakest link of the three.

In the downtime, we were taken on a tour of the nearby Eichbaum Brewery. The tour was quite difficult to follow because it was pretty much all in German. Even though I had learned some German, it was still quite difficult for me to follow.

I had been to Mannheim before and both times I went to Mannheim before this time, I had a very negative experience. The first time, I got food poisoning (I still remember which restaurant it was), and the second time, my friends and I waited at the Mannheim train station for 4 hours for a train to Berlin with a scheduled departure time of 12am.

Having had lived in Germany before meant I recognized a lot of brands like food chains, department stores, cell phone companies, etc. Because of that, my teammates often asked me different things about Germany such as how German phone plans worked and how to sign up for a plan. I explained it to them and even asked the cashier at the supermarket who didn’t speak English about phone plans.

On another day, we were also taken on a tour to the nearby city of Heidelberg. I had also been here before and vaguely knew my way around. We hiked up to the castle again, but we were there in the evening so the inside of the castle was closed by the time we arrived, so we just went as high as we could.

After spending a few days in Mannheim, all three of the teams organized transportation together to Eindhoven, where the real competition would begin. The workshop allowed us to see what our robots were capable of and what we could improve on early, so that we would be better prepared for the real thing.

Link to photo album here

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