Friday, May 25, 2007

DS-2019 and J-1 visa

I got a confirmation that my DS-2019 form is on the way, so I can soon request my J-1 visa. This form basically confirms that Stanford will accept me as an exchange scholar, and so I can request an exchange scholar visa.

The process is similar to requesting a visitor visa (B1/B2), but requires a few extra step, like paying a SEVIS fee. That fee goes to support the US government spying on me and making sure I stay in school and don't, say, go and blow up the world trade center. Yet another tax that did not exist before 9/11.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Boarding Passes

This is how 8 flights look like. Boarding pass slips for my entire journey.

Boarding Passes

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Home Sweet Home

Hi All! I'm back!

In the HNL-EWR post I forgot to tell you about the fact that my plane (a 767) was full. All 11 empty seats on the plane, including the one I cleverly left free between me and Itai were filled with nonrevenue passengers on standby. So, no free space for us.

Shortly after posting my previous post, Itai managed to get us admitted to the Delta Crown Room lounge at Newark. The lounge featured more comfortable seating and free drinks, although Dan lounge in Tel Aviv Ben Gurion airport is better.

Anyway, our Air France flight to Paris was slightly late, and for some strange reason the flight attendants insisted on counting and recounting the number of passengers on board with a clicker. The Air France Airbus A330-200 was full to capacity, and even though the flight was overbooked, we could not get rerouting and compensation.

The plane featured personal video touch screens, however most of the interactive system did not work due to some malfunction. So, there remained very few films to watch, one of which I already saw on a previous flight (Music and Lyrics). I decided to use my laptop and watch The 4400 instead. I did however enjoy tracking the flight in real time, and the option to see the view from a camera mounted below the plane. The food service on board was surprisingly good, and I enjoyed the lunch served after takeoff, although I had nothing edible for breakfast.

Upon arrival at Charles de Gaulle International Airport, our plane taxied for about 20 minutes, until we came to a stop at a parking space. It turns out that at CDG some jets are still de-boarded by bus, so we had to take airstairs and board a bus to the terminal. The terminal itself was not a pleasant place either. The ground staff refused to change our seats for the next flight, even though I'm entitled to priority seating and will not give an emergency exit row to anyone who's not fluent in French.

Upon reaching the departure gate (after passing security yet again), I was stunned to see that the boarding is again by bus. I further noticed that the flight would be at least 10 minutes late. There were no reasonable restaurants in the boarding area and everything was overpriced (and in Euro!). I boarded the plane quite early, but there were still more delays. It took more than an hour for the plane to start taxiing and a lot more than that until takeoff. I decided to read a book during all this time in order not to get too annoyed. However, one flight attendant managed to annoy me anyway when she insisted on addressing me in French twice, as if all Air France passengers are French. All in all, the service aboard the A320 was terrible, and was anxious to land, after more than 40 hours since checkout from the hotel.

We arrived 1:10 late. At Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, I whizzed through passport control, and arrived to the baggage hall just as the baggage from our flight started to appear. For some unknown reason, Itai's bag arrived before mine, even though mine was clearly labeled "Priority". Anyway, my bag did arrive quite early.

However, it turns out I just missed the shuttle cab to Haifa (Itai took the last place on the previous shuttle). I spent most of the shuttle ride sleeping. I finally arrived at home only at around 21:00, showered and went directly to sleep. Upon waking up, I immediately updated my blog for your reading pleasure.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Sleepless in Newark

Well, another update from Newark...

Here I am, still in Newark Liberty International Airport, waiting for my flight to Paris. I spent my hours here mostly sleeping on the terminal floor and chatting online using Internet connections from airline lounges that I sit outside of.

I need to emphasize here that Newark is not New York. This is not a typo. Newark, New Jersey is $14 away from Manhattan, each way! So, no, we are not going to New York.

I'm bored, so if you see me online, please chat with me!


Hi All!

I am currently at Newark Liberty International Airport, where I will be spending the next 5 or so hours, awaiting my connection to Charles de Gaulle International Airport near Paris, and then to Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv.


The 9 hour red-eye flight flight from Honolulu International Airport (Continental 14) went on easily, due to the extensive on-board entertainment. I divided my time between sleeping, and watching CSI and Without a Trace.

I had half a day in Honolulu before going to the airport. As it was a hot day and we won't have a chance to shower in a long while, we decided not to hike Diamond Head, but rather spend the day leisurely at the shopping mall. I went to a bookstore and read a little.

That's all for now. Next update will probably be from Tel Aviv airport or even from my parents' home in Kiryat Haim.

Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Hiking Oahu

Hi All!

Today I took TheBus alone to Manoa Falls, a nice short hiking trail outside Honolulu. The hike went through a thick forest, and ended in front of a beautiful waterfall.

At the end of the trail, I met a nice group of girls from Hawaii and the mainland. They continued on the Ahualama Trail, so I went with them. After about an hour we turned around and returned to the trailhead. In the meanwhile I chatted with one of them, we exchanged e-mail addresses. So, I invited her to read my blog (If you're reading this -- Hi Michelle!).

I planned to go to Diamond Head in the afternoon, but they told me at the hotel that it closes at 18:00, so I'll probably go tomorrow. I think I'll skip going to Hanauma Bay tomorrow as I have a flight to catch back home at 21:20.

Back at the hotel, 50 First Dates was on TV -- a stupid comedy set in Hawaii. It was interesting to see when I understood most of the Hawaiian references. So, now I'm back in the hotel updating my blog.

By the way, now that this a blog, you can comment -- so please do!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

LUAU? What’s a LUAU?

Hi all!

Yesderday was the first day of the conference. I started the day by volunteering at the conference registration desk. There were very fewregistrations, so I mostly used the wifi to browse the net and chatted with people at the desk. For lunch I went to the Ala Moana shopping mall and ate some chicken with Itai and Vince (and others).

After lunch, I had my poster session. I put my poster near the entrance of the hall, so I got many visitors. Some of the visitors went to my poster specifically. For example, Kate Larson, who tought my paper in a course she was giving was very interested in my new results, and all the usual suspects (David Parkes, Toumas Sandholm, Michael Wellman) paid a visit as well.

After the poster session I was late for the next session about Multi-Agent systems. There were some interesting talks (and some less interesting), and I asked a question or two.

In the next session, I gave my talk. I added a slide in the last minute due to what I've seen at the poster. However, during the talk a found some small mistakes (text that shouldn't have been in the slides), but none were noticed. After the talk I got positive feedback from several people about my
talk and my work. I refered everybody who was interested to my website.

In the evening, there was the conference banquet, or Luau. A Luau is a traditional Hawaiian feast with Polynesian entertainemnt. The Luau at AAMAS featured a cast from the Polynesian Cultural Center. The show was entertaining and showcased traditions of the various islands of

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Remeber Pearl Harbor? (200705152025)

Hello all!
Today I woke up early and headed towards the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. This is a unique place, as it is the only place on US soil which was attacked in WWII. Moreover, this was a devastating surprise attack by a nation that was in the midst of peace negotiations, that marked the US entry into the war.

The memorial itself is one of those "free ticket" sites, where you have to come early and wait in line for a free ticket redeemable some time later. Also, for "security reasons" you have to check your handbag and pay $3, and if you want an audio guide it's an additional $5.

So, I took the audio tour through the small museum that told the story of that day, December 7th, 1941. How the RADAR operators saw the incoming barrage of Japanese planes and their superior officer disregarded it, how Isoroku Yamamoto who planned the attack did not agree with its goals, and more. Then, my time came and I saw a film about the attack and visited the memorial itself.
After visiting the free memorial, I bought tickets to visit the USS Bowfin submarine and the brand new Pacific Aviation Museum. The audio tour in the USS Bowfin was interesting and provided insight on life aboard a submarine. The nearby museum chronicles the history of submarine warfare from its conception to present day.

Interestingly enough, although nuclear warfare was mentioned in the Bowfin museum and the American victory in WWII was mentioned repeatedly there was no mention of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Interestingly, there were much less Japanese tourists here than in other places in Hawaii.

The aviation museum was interesting, albeit small. It included real refurbished aircraft from the time, from both the American and Japanese sides. The most interesting exhibit was of a small civilian general aviation plane (Aeronca 65TC) that was in the air over Oahu when the Japanese struck. Remarkably, it managed to land safely in what later became Honolulu International Airport.

After this historic tour, I rode TheBus back into town, and visited the world's largest open-air shopping mall, and the largest shopping center in the United States. I didn't buy anything, but I got a free scoop of Ice Cream at Haagen-Dazs.

Tonight was the opening reception of the conference, the main excuse for me being here. Met some of my former acquaintances, including Vince, and came back to the hotel.

Tomorrow will be a long day. I'm volunteering from 7:30 to 12:00, then after lunch I present my poster, then another volunteer session, then I give my talk and at night I go to the Luau.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

From China to Eilat on TheBus

Hi All from Holiday Inn Waikiki Hawaii!
Today I decided to visit downtown Honolulu and chinatown, and the famous Waikiki beach. So, I took TheBus to downtown. It turned out I picked the wrong day to do so, as most sites are closed on Mondays. I did however see the state capitol and venture into chinatown, which is just like any other chinatown in the US. I concluded my downtown excursion with a visit to a botanic garden including a guided tour by a botanist.

Then I took TheBus back to the hotel and took a walk to the all-so-famous Waikiki beach. To my disappointment, Waikiki beach is exactly like the promenade of Eilat -- many huge hotels, several steet vendors selling overpriced food and water gear, and lots and lots of people on the beach, and an abundance of beautiful women. All in all, really nothing to see. The only thing different is the dormant volcano in the background, but it seems most of the tourists are much more into the ocean than the mountain.

So, I hopped back on TheBus, and returned to the hotel, where I can surf freely without even entering the ocean, thanks to the hi-speed Internet connection.

Tomorrow I plan to absorb some American history at the USS Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor, and maybe climb Diamond Head.

P.S. No photos from today, as I didn't bring a camera and Itai is on Kauai.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Leaving Hawai’i

Aloha from Hilo International airport!

In 90 minutes I am going to leave Hawai'i. No, I'm not returning home just yet, I'm just flying to a different island - Oahu, where Honolulu is located.

But enough with the future, let me tell you what I did today. I woke up aftee 12 hours sleeep in our nice room in Patey's Place and went online to chat with friends and family (that's you!). Itai, in the meanwhile, tried to book a flight from Kona to Kauai (another Hawaiian island) and rent a car there. Finally, at around 7AM we drove the airport, where Itai booked and boarded the flight.

I came back to the hostel for more rest and Internet, and then at 10AM finally checked out and headed back towards the Hilo side of the island. I decided to take the south route through the Volcanos National Park, as I felt I didn't get my share of geology.

On the way toward the park, I stopped again at the black sand beach with sea turtles. This time I felt better, and chatted with a nice girl on the beach. Turns out she's from the SF bay area, so I'll keep in touch with her. I also added her to the list of people getting these reports (Hi Shira!).

I arrived at the park at around 1PM, saw a film about Hawaii's volcanos and took a short guided walk through a rainforest and to the caldera. The ranger guide explained about the native Hawaiian vegitation and animals, and how they adapted to living on barren volcanic rock.

After this tour, I decided to go again down chain of craters road, and take a 2.2km walk down to see some petroglyphs, that is ancient (900yr) graffiti in hardened lava. On my way back up chain of craters road, I stopped several times to look at the huge craters visible along the road. As I don't have a real camera, I took few photos, and these will not be available online soon.

From the park I headed back to the airport, returned the car with almost no gas, and checked in for my flight, which will depart in 73 minutes.

That's all for now, Alon

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Hawaii Coast to Coast

Hi all from Kailua-Kona, on the west side of Hawaii island!

Today we woke up early and drove to Hilo airport to check two things:

  1. Itai wanted to fly out of Kona instead of Hilo to save the drive back, and

  2. I wanted to take an air tour to see real lava from above. It turned out
    that returning the car in Kona is too expensive, and the air tour company
    didn't work that early.

So, we returned to our original plans.

We took Saddle Road, which runs between the two active volcanos on Hawaii island, and went up the summit road of Mauna Kea, the highest mountain on Earth (as measured from its base). I had headaches throught this drive so I spent most of it resting. There was a great deal of fog and rain so we couldn't see much from this road. However, we did reach the visitor center on Mauna Kea summit road, where I saw a film about the astronomical observatories there. We decided not to continue to the summit as it requires a 4x4 vehicle, which we didn't have.

Instead, we continued towards the other side of the island, and up north through another mountain pass towards Pololu, where a got great view of the northern cliffs. We headed back through the (western) coastal highway to Kona airport, where I tried my luck again at getting an air tour. It turns out an air tour was just departing, and I could join it for $200. I immediately took the offer, paid and was all set to board the Cessna Caravan aircraft (FAA reg# N281A) operated by Big Island Air. As I was the only one travelling alone, and no passenger had a pilot license, I got to sit in the co-pilot's seat, so I could monitor all the instruments in flight.

The flight was about 1:45 hours, and took us all around the island. We headed south on the Kona coast and saw coffee and macedemia nut plantations, flown past the south point, catching a great view of past lava flows, and then headed toward the Volcanos National Park. We flew over chain of craters road, past the end of the road signs and the hiking trail, and up to the active lava bench we saw real red lava pouring into the ocean and creating new land. We the flew up to the actual rim of the most active volcano on Earth, and saw real red hot molten lava bubbling inside. It was an amazing view.

The flight was not over yet, we flew around the Hilo side of the island over the subtropical rainforests and waterfalls, and then over the north of the island, up to the same point I've seen from the ground a few hours earlier. We then headed back to Kona airport and landed (safely) on runway 17, right after a Hawaiian airlines jet took off. After a short taxi we were back at Kona airport.

Itai didn't want to go, so in the meanwhile he checked his options for flying from Kona to Kauai instead of back to Honolulu from Hilo. We decided to take a hostel at Kailua-Kona for tonight and have Itai fly to Kauai, while I drive back to Hilo and fly to Honolulu.

So, we went to the hostel recommended by Lonely Planet (Patey's Place), and got a private room for $65 (dorm was full). I stayed in the room to rest due to my headaches, and Itai went to the beach to swim. I'm using the free WiFi internet here to send this message, and then I'm going to sleep/rest.

As always, an approximate map of today's journey is available, and photos will be available later.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Photos from Hawaii!

Hawaii Update 200705120511

Hi All!

Yesterday we went to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We took a drive around the summit caldera of Kilauea volcano, visiting the main attractions along the road. We then went on a hike through the Kilauea Iki crater. The hike begins with a steep descent through a tropical rain forest, then an amazing walk across the volcanic crater, and finally a climb back out of the crater to where we parked the car. I forgot to take sunscreen with me so I got somewhat burned during this hike.

After completing the Crater Rim Drive, and seeing some Nene on the way, we went on to see some sea turtles at Punalu'u black sand beach. Well, the sand was black, and we saw two sea turtles there, sleeping. Next, we went to South Point, the southernmost point in the USA, but at 18.9111 degrees north, it is not the the southernmost point I ever was.

Next, we went to the southernmost restaurant in the USA at Na'alehu, HI and ate some overpriced lunch there. We then concluded our detour to the south and headed back towards the volcanoes national park to see some lava. Even though we followed all rules and guidelines, and hiked quite a long way in the dark, we still could not really see any lava. That was quite disappointing. This is why I plan on seeing the lava today or tomorrow from the air. Hopefully, this would be a fun experience, and I would see some real lava.

That's all for today. Click here for an overview of today's route.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Hawaii Update 200705102217

Hi all from Hilo!

After nearly missing the interisland flight to Hilo, I am safe and sound in the hostel (Arnott's lodge) in Hilo, Hawaii. As I wrote in the pervious mail, our flight to Honolulu was delayed. It finally landed only 50 minutes before our next flight was scheduled to depart. During that time we had to claim our bags, walk 400m with the bags to a different terminal, check in for the flight at least 25 minutes before departure, pass security and board the flight. So, by 19:25 (35 minutes to departure) my bag arrived, and I ran all the way to the other terminal in the other edge of the aiport. I checked in about 2 minutes late and immediately passed security including taking off
shoes, and taking laptop out) and ran towards the gate and on to the tarmac to board the plane (no jetways in the commuter air terminal).

Itai's bag arrived later, and he boarded the plane only 5 minutes before scheduled departure. If I had not notified the ground crew that he's coming they would have left without him. It seems that Amazing Race-style connections do happen in real life.

Hilo International Airport commuter terminal looks like a wooden shack. Baggage belts are permanenetly labeled with airline names, and the car rental station is another wooden shack.

Our accomodation for tonight, Arnott's lodge, is a simple yet clean and comfortable hostel. We'll probably stay here for two more nights, and then back to Honolulu.

If you want to know why we had to take a flight inside Hawaii, look closer at this map:
Map of Hawaii

Hawaii Update 200705101230

Hi All!
Update from the road to Hawaii - San Francisco Int'l Aiport. Two flights down, two to go. For those who don't know I'm flying to Hawaii for 12 days for a conference and trip. Today I'm flying TLV-AMS-SFO-HNL-ITO.


The flight from Tel Aviv to Amsterdam was on an old 737 with no entertainment system, but only lasted 5 short hours. I spent most of the flight sleeping and chatting with Itai who came with me.

The second flight (Amsterdam-San Francisco) was on a nice Boeing 747-400 (for those who don't know, that's a jumbo jet). I had one of the best seats on the flight, in the front of Economy class, with lots of room and I spent some time of the 11 hour flight sleeping on the floor. Other time was spent checking some papers and eating the lots of food that was available. The cabin crew was very nice and the flight was much easier than I thought it would be.

Note that this flight departed on 11:00 and landed on 13:30 (local time), which means it was continuoulsy noon onboard the flight for 11 hours! I'm not sure if I was in an airplane or a time machine...

I had a tight connection to my next flight, so I rushed off the plane. I was the first person off the flight (even before Business Class) and rushed to passport control, which ran smoothly with no lines whatsover. The only problem was my connecting flight to Honolulu was is more than an hour
delayed. Now I am expecting a tight connection at Honolulu. Therefore, I am expecting to actually send this mail (and additional updates) only when I reach our accomodations at Hilo.

BTW: All timestamps are Hawaiian time, which is 13 hours earlier than Israel time.

Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.