Ode to New York

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Everything about New York blows me away. The diversity of people, amazing art collection, bookstore with history and charm, delicious food, the lights of the Time Square and Broadway, music of the NY Philharmonic, impressive skyscrapers, historical buildings, parks with so much character. I can’t count the ways this city draws me and charms me. The four days I’m spending here turned out to be the best weather New York has had in a long time. It was preceded by a thunderstorm and temperature drops. The only side of New York I have seen is a city saturated in vibrant colors under warm and bright sunlight, and I feel impelled to to move here immediately.

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The city somehow injected me with energy and health that I haven’t had before. In two days it satiated the artistic paucity I felt for years. Surely it can’t be all roses to live here, but it’s unfair that I only get to see the best that New York has to offer because somehow I got lucky with the weather. I wonder if money would be a deciding factor in whether one enjoys New York or not… and I feel very lucky to have the means to go to the concert and not worry about starving for the next month.

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It’s eleven pm at night but I feel like I want to step out again, to gaze at the city from the top of the Empire State Building, to admire the Art Deco floors and the golden statue in front of the Rockefeller Center. And it’s amazing to behold the sight of Broadway and the Time Square… I wonder if you can feel lonly in the middle of all the warm glow of lights. I’m sure you can but tonight I just felt alive and happy to behold the sight in awe.

The ode to this city has been sung many times by writers (E.B. White “Here is New York), filmmakers (just see any Woody Allen film or hear him open his mouth), artists (Winogrand), jazz singers, pop singers, musicals, tv shows, etc etc. With all this hype from so many self-professed ‘New Yorkers’ and admirers of the City,  I thought I would feel blasé and I am so surprised to find myself so in love with a city and long to be with it as if it were a human entity. It’s a weird feeling.

So here is my ode to the great city, in the form of a blog post and couple pictures. And someday, I will have to move and work here and earn the claim to ‘know’ the city like a true New Yorker.

Italian Cinema Scores by NY Philharmonic

La Dolce Vita: The Music of Italian Cinema  New York Philharmonic

La Dolce Vita: The Music of Italian Cinema
New York Philharmonic

The program

The program

My friend brilliantly noticed, while traveling in NYC in August, that NY Philharmonic was scheduled to do a night of Italian Cinema called “La Dolce Vita”, including a piece from Cinema Paradiso. It was a two-day event with amazing violinist Joshua Bell, vocalist Josh Groban, and soprano Renee Fleming scheduled to perform. The last day of this event fortuitously fell on the day of my arrival at New York City. So despite the jetlag from time difference and flying the red-eye, I attended the event at the Lincoln Center.

I guess I should disclose that I have an on-going love affair with Italian Cinema. I haven’t seen enough of Italian Cinema yet to qualify myself as an aficionado, but I find myself extremely attached to the ones I have seen. The one in particular is Cinema Paradiso, which captures the wonderment of childhood, and is steeped in beautiful nostalgia and melancholy over the innocence and naivete that often inevitably goes away as we grow older. But truthfully, these movies would mean almost nothing to me without the scores by Ennio Morricone (Cinema Paradiso, Once Upon a Time in the West), Nino Rota (Fellini’s films like 8 1/2, La Dolce Vita), and Luis Bacalov (Il Postino).

Image courtesy of Forbes: http://tinyurl.com/odagu8l

New York Philharmonic did this very smart thing where instead of playing the footages from the movie like SF symphony does to scores, they commissioned an Italian film director Giampiero Solari to create a visual screen play for the performance. I felt that I could really experience the power of music and its role in cinema without confusing which is influencing me more (was it the images or the score?!?!). Tonight, music assumed a leading role in the world of cinema and made it clear to everyone in attendance of its power in storytelling and provoking deep emotions that transcend time and space.

Joshua Bell performed as a violin soloist on the Suite from “The Anonymous Venetian”. It was heart-wrenchingly beautiful, and I think I had to actively fight the tears from flowing. His violin seemed to be telling a beautiful story, and all I could do was empathize with its melancholia, its vulnerability, its passion as the song played.

The piece I was looking forward to, called “Se”, from Cinema Paradiso, ended up disappointing me. Possibly because I have heard that piece on youtube so many times (possibly around hundred times) without the singers (and with Ennio Morricone conducting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FzVWlOKeLs). The singing somehow took away from what was already perfect, or that was how I felt at the end of that piece…

The NY Phil also played a piece from Life is Beautiful, and the gorgeous footages from the movie played (instead of the animation), along with the piece that ebbed and flowed, swelled with the crescendo and made our hearts melt into pools of emotions.

So these are the movies on my to-watch or re-watch list:
Life is Beautiful
Cinema Paradiso
Il Postino
Once Upon a time in the West
Incontro
Amarcord
Profumo di Donna
Juliet of the Spirits

Supporting the Pavilion Lake Research Project

I am in the middle of a two week-long field work in Pavilion Lake, British Columbia, Canada. This is my first official “NASA” field test trip in a remote site and I am very excited to be here with the xGDS team from Intelligent Robotics Group (Tamar and Dave) to make sure our software helps the scientists operate smoothly as they collect and analyze data about microbialites.

Pavilion Lake, BC, Canada

Pavilion Lake, BC, Canada

Microbialites are rocks that are formed by bacteria. They are most often found in very harsh environments and are often many million or even billion years old. The ones in Pavilion Lake are especially of interest to the scientific community because they grow in fresh water that also support other living species. From what I understand, studying these microbialites provides an understanding of really ancient microbialites that were formed billions of years ago on Earth, and it may provide clues to origin of life on Earth and ultimately clues to life on other planets.

A better / more accurate understanding of microbialites can be found here: pavilionlake.com ;)

Microbialite sample

Microbialite sample

The software my team and I wrote is called Exploration Ground Data Systems (xGDS). It’s a pretty amazing tool that helps scientists plan their flights, take time stamped notes, view and analyze video data, images, and basically whatever data they collected out in the field. They use it to plan, execute, and review the entire research project.

Allyson, a scientist, uses xGDS to take timestamped notes while viewing video and noting the location of the ROV via xGDS tracking system.

Allyson, a scientist, uses xGDS to take timestamped notes while viewing video and noting the location of the ROV via xGDS tracking system.

There are many things I really enjoyed and learned from Pavilion Lake Research Project, and one of them was observing how effectively this tightly-knit group of scientists and engineers were led by Darlene and her team. We operated on a tight, busy schedule that began with a 7am meeting, then a morning flight with divers in the lake with xGDS supporting, then lunch, then an afternoon flight with divers and xGDS support, then dinner, then evening debrief at 8pm (after which  our team would go back to the trailer to code some more). The days were busy and hectic, and I am slightly woozy from lack of sleep my eye and hand are swollen from the mosquito bites. But it was so exciting!! And I learned so much about team work and productive work schedule from her team.

Science team meeting at the end of the day.

Science team meeting at the end of the day.

In the previous years, the underwater data was collected using a manned-underwater vehicle (basically a submarine). During this year’s test, however, we used underwater ROVs’ (remotely operated vehicles) with cameras to collect footages and sensor data underwater. There are three ROVs’ and you can see one below (his name is Seamor).

Seamor is a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that goes underwater to collect various data including video and sensor data.

Seamor is a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that goes underwater to collect various data including video and sensor data.

Sometimes the weather in Pavilion Lake would  be freezing and windy. But the next day, the weather would flip and we would get nice sunny weather like you see below!

Enjoying the sun after days of rain and cold wind.

Enjoying the sun after days of rain and cold wind.

So checkout pavilionlake.com for information regarding Pavilion Lake Research Project. It’s been a great fun so far, sprinkled with lot of laughter, jokes, and lots and lots of adventure coding🙂 And I am super excited for this network of scientists I now know. They are the greatest, funnest bunch🙂

Surface Telerobotics Mission with Astronaut Luca Parmitano

Surface Telerobotics Mission, Session 2, took place on July 26th. Astronaut, Luca Parmitano, controlled our K10 Rover on Earth from the International Space Station. You can see the software we built to control the rover in the below pictures🙂

There were lot of media present on the day of the session for coverage, including WIRED, Space.com, etc.

WIRED:

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/07/nasa-ames-telerobotics/?pid=8511

Space.com:

http://www.space.com/22160-space-station-astronaut-drives-rover.html

Global News:

http://globalnews.ca/news/752773/astronauts-control-rover-from-space/

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Surface Telerobotics Mission

So much happened since my last post. I marked my 1 year work-anniversary at NASA on May 28th, 2012. I produced three short films, two of which is related to NASA. One of those videos was shown to the astronaut in the International Space Station, as part of training for our mission: http://youtu.be/Gp_Jj3kzdiM

On June 17th 2012, we got to interface with the astronaut on board the ISS as part of our Surface Telerobotics Project. The day started at the crack of down (5am!). There were thankfully no major hiccups and we were able to successfully have the astronaut in space control the K10 rover on Earth! The astronaut who controlled our rover was Chris Cassidy. He’s a Navy SEAL, an astronaut, and an engineer from MIT, which officially makes him one of the coolest astronauts ever🙂 When the session ended, he had only good things to say about the GUI and complimented us on intuitiveness of the controls and the smoothness of the operation. And this of course, made the day for all of us who worked on the project.

Here are high-res pictures sent from the ISS of the astronaut in ISS using our UI to control our rover on the ground:

Astronaut Chris Cassidy controls the rover from ISS

Image Courtesy of Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA Ames Research Center

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Image Courtesy of Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA Ames Research Center

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Image Courtesy of Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA Ames Research Center