Capitol Building

This time I’m going to take you with me to a conference in Washington D.C. and to the City University of New York. Also, I’ll update you on how my research is progressing.

Research can be frustrating

After having spent some quality time with my family and working on my side projects, I am finally back working on my actual research in Atlanta. After finishing with the reading, I got the adapted model set up. The purpose of the new model is simply to improve an old approach in its sample size, which sounds easier than it actually is.

As the simulations of the model involve several numerical optimizations, the run time is quite slow and most of the time I can only wait for the next run to get finished to check the results. After each run, I change the settings to figure out how the model reacts to what modifications, and then I wait again. Luckily, I can keep myself busy during the runs with my other projects and planning further traveling with the conference in D.C. coming up quickly.

plot

All the while, my landlady is getting ready for Christmas and we go on a hunt for a nice Christmas tree which involves our first choice getting lost during the prepping of the stem. She decorates the whole place and we spend a relaxing evening listening to Christmas songs.

christmas-tree

Washington D.C.

As the OSTA, the office of science and technology Austria, invited Austrian researchers working in the USA to a conference in Washington D.C., I head there myself. After the borderline experiences with Greyhound during my last travels, I decide to take the Megabus instead. The 14h overnight drive passes quickly and with plenty of space, I can even get some sleep. After arriving in D.C. in the morning, I quickly drop off my luggage at the hotel before heading to the Austrian Embassy.

embassy

The first day of the conference is actually a conference of EURAXESS. Unfortunately, the reality of the event falls short of my expectations, as the topics are not too relevant for PhD students. The coffee breaks, however, open up opportunities for meeting fellow PhD students from Austria. Talking to them makes me realize that my German has become a little rusty from neglect. Shortly before the lunch break, one of the hosts points out that wherever you see an Austrian flag you will find some Kaiserschmarrn. So we get our hopes high in expectancy of some delicious Austrian food, just to be deeply disappointed only a few moments later. Not only is there no Kaiserschmarrn but also no other traditional dish. To cope with our disappointment we decide to skip the afternoon sessions and do some sightseeing.

Although it is cold and windy outside, we walk past several touristic points including the White House, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial among others. We exchange experiences of working in the States. Why we came in the first place and why some of us intend to stay. I realize two things: (1) Austrians who stay long enough in the USA do not want to return home and (2) the universities in Boston have a way better network of helping fellow Austrians especially with accommodation and networking.

obelisk white-house

In the evening, we head to the Google Office where the Welcome Reception is held. And yes, the place is as fancy and fun as everyone says. For a few hours, we network and I even get the chance to say a quick hi to Heinz Faßmann, the Austrian Federal Minister of Education, Science and Research. As the office building closes already at 9pm, we head out in search of a bar to continue our networking. What surprises us, well at least me, is that even though it is a Friday evening and we are in the center of a big city most bars already close at midnight. We manage to find a bar close to our hotel that stays open a little longer and enjoy some local beer.

At some point in the evening I get a text message from Megabus telling me that my bus for the return trip on Sunday has been canceled due to some snow storm warning. So I frantically try to figure out how I will get back to Atlanta. Considering it is less than 48h to my travel time most options have become quite expensive and extending my stay in Washington for a day or two is also not really in the budget. Realizing that there is not much I can do on my mobile phone, I text my boyfriend and tell him to figure it out for me.

The next morning I get the news that my only chance of getting home without getting broke is to take the Greyhound again and hope that it will actually drive. Somewhat calmed down I head towards the Newseum, where the conference is held today. With good food and some very interesting discussions and research funding options, the conference passes by quickly. As there is some time between the end of the conference and dinner, we walk through the museum, which covers some interesting topics of news reporting and freedom of the press.

newseum

The dinner is held back at the Austrian Embassy where some researchers receive awards. Even though we still miss some Austrian dishes, the buffet is excellent and the freshly prepared flambéed desserts are very tasty.

On my last day in Washington D.C. I walk around a little bit, visiting a small Christmas market where I get some delicious hot chocolate and the National Christmas tree located near the White House.

Shortly afterwards I am already back on my way to Atlanta. Even though my bus for the first leg of the travel is on time the bus driver tells us quite bluntly that in case the snowfall gets too heavy he will pull over not caring if we want to continue.

The first hour everything is quiet but we then hit the hilly parts of Virginia and it starts to snow. Not that much, if you have seen some snowstorms in the Alpine area, but still, the snow is falling consistently. Traffic gets heavy and we fall in line with the other cars doing no more than 20mph. No snowplows are to be seen anywhere on the highway which one would expect considering that the snow was announced well in time. So every time we reach a hill I pray that the cars in front of us won’t come to a full stop because I’m quite sure that the bus won’t be able to start again on the snow-covered road as it already is struggling as it is. Regularly we pass by cars and trucks that either got stuck or crashed and I’m quite happy when we finally reach Richmond even if it is 2h late.

snowstorm

What I’m not happy about is the fact that my (and the one of roughly 20 others) connection bus leaves the terminal the minute our bus pulls in. Even though they take good care of us and reschedule us on the next available bus we are stuck in the terminal for 5h until midnight. Next to some very suspicious looking passengers the restaurant is soon sold out of warm food making the wait rather uncomfortable. As soon as I enter the bus, I fall asleep. Over 24h after leaving D.C., I’m finally back in Atlanta and the first thing I do is to fix myself some Kaiserschmarrn.

kaiserschmarrn

Research can have its moments

All my playing around with the R-code the previous week did help with the actual simulation results. The last minor optimization errors are finally kicked out and you can somehow tell that it does have a tendency to converge to the correct distribution but something is still off. By chance I decide to increase the sample size to make it ridiculously large. The run time there gets to a point where I need to let it run overnight, and it doesn’t help that during the first try my laptop decides to crash. There is no real reason for me to pick such a high sample size since the new method is supposed to reduce the sample size of an already existing method. So checking a higher sample size than that that was needed in the original method to obtain the nominal level is usually a bad sign.

And when the results are in they confirm that the new method is not going to work. For a sample size of 1000 I am finally getting close to the nominal level indicating that the limit distribution is correct but that the required sample size is just unreasonably high. In other words no real point in investing more time into the method.

To lighten my mood I follow a tip of my landlady and go to a pop-up German Christmas market. Even though it is quite different from the real German Christmas markets, I still enjoy the afternoon talking to the organizer, who is aware of the differences and hopes to improve those points if he should do a second one, and drinking some mulled wine.

mulled-wine

Sightseeing in New York and visit to the CUNY

Traveling this time by plane proves to be much more fun even if my alarm goes off far too early. Relaxed I arrive in Brooklyn and make my way to my hotel in midtown Manhattan before heading to the UN headquarters. My first stop is the gift shop where I cannot find what I am looking for but I receive the help of a friendly employee who tells me that they will receive a delivery by the end of the week and gives me his phone number so that I can contact him to check when it is available again. Part two is the post office where I quickly write two postcards and send them back home to Germany with the official UN-stamp in hopes that they will arrive before Christmas.

brooklyn

Since I do not really have anything planned for the evening, I stroll around the building looking at a photographic exhibition until a security guy approaches me. He tells me that he wants to show me something. I follow, figuring he is just bored by only standing around the whole day. He gives me a tour of the UN-building, including parts of the public tour but also parts that are not open to the public at all. Which is quite amazing to be honest. Some of the conference rooms are occupied and he promises me that he’ll take me to those the next time I’m around and passes me his number to contact him.

flags

Walking back to the subway, I double back to make sure I’m not mistaken, but yes, I stumble across the Hofbräuhaus München in New York and make a mental note to stop by at a later point in time. For the night, I head to Times Square. The place is packed with tourists that randomly stop in front of you or want you to take pictures of them and then need more than just a few moments to get ready for the “perfect” picture.

times-square

After a few minutes, I head to a side road and find a small, shabby pizzeria where I grab some delicious dinner before heading back to the hotel.

The next morning I head uptown to meet with a professor of the CUNY. He and my supervisor at home organized a book club for statistics and data sciences in which I took part the last few semesters so I already know him. We talk a little bit and he gets me some nice literature for reading before we grab some lunch.

Returning I fire up my laptop and unfortunately realize that the crash during the weekend was not a one-time occasion but seems to be a bigger problem. A frantic call with my boyfriend later and I back up my data before shutting it off. The internal hard disk is failing from what he can tell by my not very technical description of the problem, and I will need to get it replaced before I can use my laptop again. For years, I thought I couldn’t live without my smartphone but being without a laptop is almost more annoying. Especially since I should be working on it.

However, I cannot deal with that issue until the next day, as I am to meet with another professor in the afternoon to start a new project. We have a lovely chat discussing the option of applying one of our methods to her research area. And she even sets me up with one of the girls in the IT so that someone can have a close look at my laptop. She can only confirm my boyfriend’s diagnosis.

In the evening I join the Christmas Party of the University which is held in a lovely decorated place a few minutes away. With good food and an open bar, I can network a little bit in a nice, relaxed atmosphere.

christmas-cake

The next morning I get up early and grab a quick coffee with a friend. After that, I am trying to find a store that has a fitting internal hard disk in stock. After hitting a few places, I realize that I am running late for our book club so I hustle back without having settled my problem. As my professor has some meetings after the book club, I spend my time reading papers he sent me and I scribble some ideas down on paper. Later that afternoon I give my second big talk. As it is the week before Christmas, most people have already left for home. However, a few show up in person and for the others we set up a video call such that they can see my slides and hear what I have to say.

In the evening, I treat myself to a visit to the Munich Hofbräuhaus. Most people there belong to one of the many company holiday parties and clearly have been there for a while already. Even though they have beer tables and the waitresses wear traditional dresses, it doesn’t feel like anything a beer-garden feels like. On multiple screens one can watch basketball while some American band plays some songs I’ve never heard before. On the plus side, it definitely is the same good German beer and I enjoy every sip of it.

hofbräuhaus hofbräuhaus

On the way back, I walk past Rockefeller Center to take in the Christmas atmosphere and to see the big tree and the light show. As I’m in a walking mood, I actually head up to Central Park and stroll through it towards the general direction of my hotel.

rockefeller-center rockefeller-center

Thursday morning I say goodbye to my professor who is heading out for the holiday break before preparing a little bit for another meeting with the other professor to talk about the collaboration. A few minutes into the talk, we agree that we will give the project we shortly discussed two days earlier a shot as it seems to be a nice and uncomplicated approach. Even though it had been sunny all week long, we are getting the first part of a storm that will hit New York on Friday. Vision drops too much so I decide against going up Empire State Building as I won’t be able to see a lot and I already was up there during my last visit when I had better weather. Instead, I quickly check in with the guy from the UN visitor center to see whether my delivery has already arrived and shortly later I head down there again. I barely get there in time for the entry hours, pick my delivery up and head back outside as fast as I can, just to get stopped by another security guy who comments on the length of my visit. 10 minutes later, I have yet another phone number and head to the memorial of the World Trade Center and the new buildings.

world-trade-center world-trade-center

On my way back, I stop at the Hard Rock Cafe debating whether I want to eat there before finally deciding against it as the wait is too long. Instead, I grab something small from one of the many food carts that can be found all over Manhattan and head back to my hotel for an early night.

The next day I am set for travel again bringing a quite eventful and busy week in New York to an end. Even though I feared that Megabus might again cancel my bus with the big storm approaching, it luckily arrives and seems to run like usual. Unlike the last trip with them, this time the bus is full and I am cramped up for the whole 8h ride to Pittsburgh where I will spend Christmas and New Year’s.

In the next and final part, I am going to tell you all about my Christmas, my trip to Denver and to Monterey for a visit at the Naval Postgraduate School. Missed the last part of my blog? Go check out what happened on my road trips and how I experienced a real American Thanksgiving.

Judith

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