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21 July
2006

I went to Rio de Janiero for the ISER 2006 conference, and brought my family along. The conference was great with a good representation of strong work in experimental robotics.

In Rio we had a good time, althouigh the city is a bit tough and rather grubby. During the conference we stayed in the official conference hotel which was the splendid luxurious Sofitel at the terminus of Copacabana beach (where we had a great view of the bay). Note that Copababana is widely reputed to be overcrowded and inferior to Ipanema or Leblon, but in winter (July) it's fine.

.

I suspect the best moments in Rio for the kids and I were swimming in the Ocean on Ipanema beach. That was great both for the sea, but also for the excellent view and locale. One night we went to Rio Scenarium, a supper and Samba/dance club. That was fun and after 11pm, when the local Cariocas arrive, it gets very crowded and is a good people-watching venue. Between 11pm and 12pm there is a huge and sudden increase in the number of people there. For potential visitors, it's also worth noting that by 11:30pm there is a very large lineup outside to get in. We arrive around 9pm, got in easily, and had supper there and that's the strategy I would recommend.

Of course, while in Rio we also visited the Sugar Loaf mountain (Pao de Azucar) and the Corcovado (Christ Statue). A very fun activity was renting bicycles and biking the 4km down Copabanana beach (along Atlantic Avenue) at evening time.

Personal security and theft is Rio is an issue. We were careful and didn't travel with conspicuous signs of wealth...


or tourist status, and had no problems. In the end I felt quite comfortable, although one of the conference attendees was robbed in broad daylight at gunpoint. The key issue for those who might visit Rio for the first time is not to carry a camera, wear a watch, wear jewelery or dress in a conspicuously wealthy way. And, of course, stay in well-light safe areas. It sounds intimidating, but it's actually quite easy to achieve and then you can have a pleasant visit.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
13 July
2006

Brazil notes, July 13, 2006, 5:58pm

This is our second day on the Amazon river; our first real day.

Yesterday we boarded our boat, the Dona Selly II at the Tropical Manaus Hotel, and headed to the "meeting of the waters" where the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimoes meet (the Solimoes is the name of the Western/South-Western branch of the Amazon). The Rio Negro has a color like strong tea, while the Solimoes is kind of like weak tea with a fair bit of milk. At the meeting of the waters, one can clearly see the two independent streams of water moving side by side as they very slowly conmingle. The sight is interesting, and not to be missed, but it is far from spectacular. Then we headed upstream and into the boat for a substantial and tasty supper of catfish. After that, at 8pm, we went in a flat-bottomed boat to sail into the flooded forest know as an Igapo in search of wildlife and, in particular, caiman. We found a small one which our guide capured with his hands and which a brazen portuguese woman also handled and attempted to force onto her utterly bratty and thoroughly ill-mannered little child. Finally the hapless creature was released and we putted through daunting and impresive forest and saw the odd owl, tarantula, or other sight. It was quite impressive and awesome in the literal sense of the word.

Today (July 13th) we were woken around 4am as the boat started moving upriver. We slept fitfully in our air conditioned little cabin until about 7:00am and had a hearty breakfast on eggs, cakes, fruit, tapioca bread, juice and coffee and then kept heading upriver. After noon we headed out into the jungle for an utterly fantastic hike with a local guide. Our standard guide translated his jungle lore (and injected his own ill-informed and anti-intellectual commentary as we walked). We saw a plant that smelled strongly of methol which is, apparently, callled a "vix-ou" (as in "Vicks Vap-O-Rub") tree
the guide said it was the only name he knew of which mattered. ...


We also saw a colony of ants living on a tree that, if the tree was disturbed, would swarm out and sting the hapless attacker. Of course, we distrubed the tree and watched the ants, each about 0.75 inches long, swarm around. It was temping to let one sting me, just to see how it felt, but the discomfort can apparantly last 24 hours for some people. We also say a tree that exuded a milky substance that could be used for healing or gum, a tree that tasted of(and produced) quinine, and several other wonderful plants.

July 14. We fed fresh-water dophins from a dock and that was very complelling and fascinating. We had to stand in water to do it, and I treated my feet with all kinds of stuff after in the fear of getting a parasite. We got up at sunrise and took the canoe around looking for birds and just communing with the stillness. We had acocado ice-cream with lunch. I bought a wooden pirarucu fish, which is what we had for supper yesterday. The dolphins are amazingly, almost impossibly, gentle. We fed them halves of other fish.

BACKGROUND

Our boat the Dona Selly II had a length of 22 Meters (72 Feet). It had ten cabins with 2 bunk beds each. The cabins were small and I must have bumped my head 50 times on the low doorways, but I thought the boat was cozy and just about right as a tradeoff between comfort and immediacy with the actual environment.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
23 July
2006

While travelling in Brazil we took anti-malarial drugs, specifically a fairly new drug combination called Malarone (containing the specific drugs atovaquone and proguanil). I feel compelled to write this note to address misinformation we received repeatedly regarding this serious disease. There seems to be wide-spread misunderstanding and misinformation about malaria in the Amazonas region, it as far as we could tell it extends even to people who should know better including medical practitioners and tour guides!


Our guide specifically gave us a long speech about how dumb our doctor was. He repeated this speech almost verbatim in French and Italian.

Specifically, there is very solid scientific evidence that Malarone can prevent or cure malaria (although it may depend on the place in the world you visit and/or your health, so see your own doctor). This is based on published scientific studies, including some that were conducted in South America. This is notable because I developed food poisoning and was seen by a doctor and nurse while in Manaus, in the Amazonas region. We were informed by both our guide in the Amazon, as well as by the doctor, that there does not exist a preventative mediation and that we were wasting our time taking anything! This is just plain wrong. It's not just a matter of personal opinion since a simple search on google can find you lots of credible objective peer-reviewed scientific data. For people who live in Brazil permanently, the situation is more complex, but for tourists the story is pretty simple: a preventative drug works and taking it is a really good idea.

Note that there are four types of malaria parasite: malaria falciparum, vivax, malariae, and ovale. The first, falciparum, is the most dangereous. All forms are transmitted by the bite of a specific species of mosquito, the Anopheles.

We had no problems with Malarone and the common side-effects are pretty minor (especially as compared to some prior drugs that were in use just a few years ago).

References:


  • Brazilian J Infect Diseases, Atovaquone and Proguanil Hydrochloride Compared With ...


  • WebMD Malarone for malaria

  • CDC

  • more CDC
  • By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
    01 March
    2007

    Today I was supposed to travel to Orlando to give a colloquium on Robotics at UCF. Upon arrival at the airport, the U.S. Airways representative told me my flight was cancelled due to a shortage of staff! In other words, they somehow botched their planning so badly they didn't have staff for my flight.

    Their customer service was terrible. Aside from what seems to me like sloppy and irresponsible scheduling, they failed to do simple things that would make a customer's experience better. In addition, their refund procedure is unhelpful, inconvenient, unfair and (to my non-expert eyes) possibly even fraudulent since they sell and promise a service that they fail to deliver.



    When U.S. Airways found they had not arranged for sufficient staff for the flight, why didn't they contact the customers like me? Why didn't they schedule us on other flights in advance of our arrival at the airport? By the time I was in line and discovered their mistake, there were no other options to get me to my destination for my talk (i.e. in less than 16 hours).


    The specifics of my experience are long, so further reading is only for the determined. (List of consumer affairs numbers is at the end.)


    The U.S. Airways agent checked "all airlines" and told me that no alternative flights were available and no connections though any city on any airline would get me to Orlando the same day. I phoned my wife, and got her to check this out with Expedia, since I was told by the agent no internet connectivity was available at the airport (which proved to be incorrect). Krys discovered that an Air Canada flight worked and had a seat free. Instead of making the change for me, the US Airways agent sent me to wait in an almost-2-hour lineup at an Air Canada ticket agent. By the time I got to the front of the line, there were no seats left.

    Then I was told that U.S. Airways could not issue a taxi voucher to get me home, and that any refund for my cancelled flight or the penalties on my rental car would have to be dealt with via customer service, not at the airport.

    I called US Airways. This involved waiting on hold for 66 minutes until the call was answered. Then I was told they would refund the ticket cost, but not the penalty on my rental car, the taxi fare, the Expedia booking fee, or any other resulting costs. Any other concerns need to be taken up with customer relations. (US Airways customer relations telephone number: 866-523-5333; full list of phone numbers below.)
    The recording at the toll-free customer relations number I was given told me, eventually, that they "had moved to Arizona" (who cares, and from where?) and I should call another (paid) long distance number. "To better assist you, please call '480-693-6735' (click)." [Better than what, I wonder?] This was the US Airways refunds automation system". I think that it should be called the we-hate-the-customer system. It is the most inhuman and frustrating automated voice mail system you are likely to see, unless you are making a call from inside a Russian Gulag prison. You never actually get to speak to anybody who can address your concerns and you have the pleasure of entering long strings of digits on your phone pad.

    I tried Expedia, who have phone support even late at night, and they said they could try and get a refund for the flight, but it would not cover the other costs, and would take up to 12 weeks while I would have to carry to costs. The Expedia people were also nice enough telephone Budget Car Rentals on my behalf, while I waited, and get Budget to waive their penalty fee, even though the problem was not the fault of Budget or Expedia. Too bad US Airways couldn't have done that.

    Can this customer service get any worse? These guys make Air Canada look very good by comparison. I'll take Delta, Air France, West Jet or American Airlines any day instead of US Airways!

    Observe that other sources rate the "transfer services" of this airline as
    poor (2 out of 5 stars).

    For those who might need it, I also obtained the following numbers. I don't understand how they relate to one another, so don't ask.


    • US Airways Consumer Affairs phone number: 800-363-2542

    • US Airways Consumer Affairs FAX: 480-693-2300

    • US Airways customer relations: 866-523-5333

    • US Airways Consumer Affairs (?) referral after the 800 number hangs up on you: 480-693-6735 (you have to listen carefully to catch this)

    By Gregory Dudek at | Read (14) or Leave a comment |    
    07 March
    2007

    The Computer and Robot Vision (CRV) 2007 will take place in Montreal this summer and the reviewing has just finished. Greg Mori and Richard Vaughn, the co-chairs, did a great job. The acceptance rate for orally presented papers was 25%. and the paper quality seems to be high. It will be combined with 3 other conferences: The Precarn Conference (Robotics, Intelliegnce Systems and ICT), Graphics Interface (Computer Graphics and HCI) and Artificial Intelligence. Tal Arbel from McGill is the general chair of the whole thing, working with Gary Gudbranson of Precarn. They have done a lot of work to make the entire combined project very appealing. The invited speakers for CRV are Michael Black (Brown U), Larry Matthies (JPL), and Martial Hebert (CMU) each of which is a real expert in an impressive domain that combines basic science with a cool appliction -- directly connecting to the human brain, controlling robotics on other planets and using vision in autonomous vehicles.

    The entire package of 4 conferences will be a nice combination with a low registration cost, and Montreal in the summer tiem is really attractive. This combines a lot of cool science, amazing applications and some business networking. CRV is sponsored by the Canadian Image Processing and Pattern Recognition Society (CIPPRS) which is the Canadian branch of the International Pattern Recognition Society (I am the president, so I am not totally impartial, but all the above comments are still true).


    By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
    02 April
    2007

    Just back from Orlando where I gave a colloquium talk at the University of
    Central Florida (I talked about the AQUA robot and some of the vision
    algorithms we are developing for it). [This was a second trip after a botched visit recently.] There is a very active computer
    vision group there that is really
    agressive and productive with many interesting projects on the go. Among other things
    they just got a nice DARPA contract for a fleet of flying air vehicles (UGV's) to complement the one they already have.

    I took three hours off and made a quick trip to the Kennedy Space Center on the coast.
    They have several old rockets and shuttle mock-ups on display. It's kind of interesting, but I am not sure it's worth 2 hours driving and the $35 admission price if you onyl are left with a
    single hour to visit. On the other hand, there are various included movies (including IMAX) that I wasn't able to see, and they seem to be key parts of the site. A much more reasonable plan is to take the bus tour(s) of the entire site, but that is both time consuming and requires advance reservations. I did that years ago and found it very worthwhile, plus there is interesting wildlife to see occasionally (such as alligators).


    By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
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