Sunday, September 30, 2007


View from the top of the Latin America TowerI am sitting now in the botanical garden inside the palace of the president of Mexico. Today I am walking through the historical center of Mexico City. I have seen the city from the top of the Latin America tower, saw some ancient cathedrals, and then arrived at the great central square of Mexico City - the Zokalo (base).

This huge central square is surrounded by important federal buildings. All sides are decorated with the Mexican flag and symbol. One of these buildings is the president's palace, where I am now sitting after a short guided tour of the impressive frescos in this building.

This following is being written back at the hotel.

After touring the palace I continued to the Templo Mayor - the ruins of the grand temple of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan and the associated museum. It was very interesting to learn about the pre-Spanish history and the Spanish invasion.

Afterwards I had a short visit in the museum of culture and then headed back to the hotel through the many street vendors. I even bought some stuff I need.

Tomorrow I have only a short time here as my flight departs at 15:27 and it can take 45 minutes to get to the airport.

Next post will probably be from California unless I get WiFi at MEX.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Native American fun

Pyramid of the MoonAfter landing in Mexico City I took the subway to my hotel (only $0.20 for the ticket!). I put my stuff there and went to the National Museum of Anthropology. The museum had reconstructions of ancient American cultures and original artifacts. I returned to my hotel early because I was tired.

Today I took a tour to the pyramids of Teotihuacan (I pulled that name out of a hat.... I bought the hat there). The site features two great pyramids for the sun and moon and many smaller pyramid-shaped altars. These pyramids were built by the Aztecs on a site where a more ancient civilization once lived.

This ancient civilization built palaces and mined the volcanic obsidian stone. I bought a small souvenir from this stone and a nice pyramid-shaped key chain.

On the way back we ate lunch at a restaurant with a view of the pyramids and now we're headed back to the hotel.

Our group consisted of four people: A man on business from Venezuela, a couple from Argentina and Texas, and myself. The couple had cameras and took photos for all of us, which they will later e-mail us or post online. I took several pictures with my iPAQ as well, and I plan to post those later.

Tomorrow I will probably walk around the historic center. I'm quite tired now so I will probably rest in this evening.

Friday, September 28, 2007

iPAQ & I pack

HP iPAQ hw6945Yesterday the HP iPAQ I have ordered from eBay has arrived unexpectedly to my office. It was not expected because the US postal service website did not update the details of the delivery.

So, what is this iPAQ you ask. Well, it is a mobile PC slightly larger than a mobile phone. My model includes a full QWERTY keyboard and a touch screen and supports WiFi, cellular, GPS, and bluetooth. It can also hold up to 2GB of flash and be used to surf the web, play music and videos, and to write notes (such as this blog post).

The last day was mostly spent playing with this new toy. The other things I did were send my laptop for warranty service (LCD problems) and pack for my trip to Mexico City. I am writing this post from the Delta crown room in San Francisco airport.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

New car, new friends

My CarI haven't updated in some time. You don't have to worry. I'm doing fine. Yesterday I picked up my brand new blue 2008 Toyota Yaris, all paid for and insured. So now I have a car and a place to live. I got a good deal on the car and paid only $16,300 for it including all taxes.

Today I bought a parking permit for the car, so now I can actually park on campus. I also finally got my student number and ID card, and my network ID, so now I can use my laptop anywhere on campus.

I have done other stuff this weekend. On Sunday I went on a short hike to "the dish", a radio-telescope here at Stanford and made some new friends from all over the world.

I was also told about a BBQ at the Jewish center here at Stanford on Monday night so I went there as well. Many nice people, very few Israelis there. After the BBQ party, they aired the first episode of season 2 of Heroes on a big screen, so I stayed to watch.

Next post I'll talk about the wonders of eBay.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Residential Address

Good news: I have found a place to stay!

Today I started my search for a less temporary place to stay and I immediately found one. The chepest place available answered and had all what I need (bed, electricity, wifi) and for only $450/month. It's also a short 12 minute drive from my office. After several calls to the landlord and my parents I decided to go for it, without seeing any other places. The room was so cheap because I am barred from any kind of cooking in the room. However, with the money I saved I can eat out every day if I want to. All in all, I think I struck a great deal.

My residential address, if you would like to send me mail, is:
Alon Altman
256 Walter Hays Dr.
Palo Alto, CA 94303

Yesterday I went to Stanford's compulsory postdoc orientation meeting. In this useless 2.5 hour meeting, we were explained a lot of practical information I have already read online. I didn't even get my student ID number, as the postdoc office did not receive all my information on time. I also went to the weekly meeting of Yoav's group and got introduced to all the other researchers in the team.

Later that day, I went to the social security office to get my card replaced to one that is valid for employment. They told me that I must arrive after the start date of my program, which is October 1st.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Office 2007

Yesterday was my first full day here. In the morning I went to eat breakfast at McDonald's, guided by my trusted navigation system. The first McD I went to was closed, so I went to another one which was open.

After breakfast I returned to the motel, and figured out I somehow managed to lose my room key. In any case, I decided to go on line and plan the rest of my day. It was still early to go to the International Center at Stanford, so I decided to go to see a new car for sale. I called the person I've been in touch with at the dealership and set an appointment for an hour later. The price he quoted at the dealership was too high for my parent's taste, so I did not yet buy the car.

From the dealership I made my way to Stanford, ate lunch, and went on to get my temporary ATM card and visit the Int'l center for an orientation. Then, I drove to the CS faculty and met with the administrator there. I signed lots of forms to be on payroll and got signed up for an orientation meeting today. Then, I went to see Yoav -- the professor I'll be working with. Even though he was not expecting me, he took the time to give me a short tour of the faculty and have his assistant assign me an office and give me a key. Now I have an address where I can get mail! The address is:
Alon Altman
Gates Computer Science
353 Serra Mall, room 258
Stanford, CA 94305

After arranging all that, I went back to the hotel room and on line. I had a chat with my friend whom I met in Hawaii and met up with her for dinner. I really enjoyed it.

Overall, I feel good and even though getting settled is hard, I think I'm doing pretty well. Today will be another day at Stanford and I hope to start looking for places to stay tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Today I flew to Stanford. To stay. Here is my story.

I flew with KLM with a connection at Amsterdam Schiphol airport. At Amsterdam, I tried to get admitted to the lounge even though I was not upgraded to business, and did not yet technically qualify for Gold. As I only had 600 miles less than needed, I was granted lounge access. At the lounge I asked for a temporary gold card and they decided to issue one for me even though I did not yet qualify for gold. The actual gold card will be sent to Israel in about a month, and then I'll ask my parents to forward it here.

On the 747 flight to San Francisco, I enjoyed the best seat on the plane (11F), however when I tried to use the space in front of the seat to sleep in my sleeping bag, a flight attendant told me this is not allowed, so I had to sleep in my seat. I spent most of my time on the plane reading a book I bought and trying to sleep.

We arrived in SFO 10 minutes late, and I was among the first to exit the plane, even before some business class passengers. I rushed to passport control and was admitted without waiting in line at all. The J-1 admission process was longer than usual but I still arrived at the baggage claim area before any luggage came out. After some time, both my suitcases arrived and an airport employee helped me take them off the belt and onto my trolley.

After baggage claim, I took the AirTrain to the car rental building and waited in line. After a short while I got my contract and navigation system and was told to go to the garage and take any compact car. The only problem was, there weren't any. After 30 minutes of asking several employees in the garage and back outside, I was told to take a midsize car instead. The midsize car was huge. I had no problem loading all the luggage in the backseat and the trunk and installing the navigation system. Finding how to adjust the seat, however, took some time.

After all these adjustments, I entered my destination (Wells Fargo bank at Stanford) and started driving out of the airport garage. For some reason, the navigation system did not update and stayed stuck at the airport. I discovered this only when I was in the middle of an 8-lane road going somewhere I didn't know. Luckily, there was a traffic jam and I managed to restart the navigation system, which proceeded to recalculate my route and direct me to the bank. I used that traffic jam also to figure out how to close the windows in this car, which is not as simple as it seems.

When the navigation system told me I have arrived, I noticed a large parking lot, so naturally I parked the car there. I saw parking ticket sales machines so I tried to pay for the parking, but it turned out no change was given and the smallest bill I had was $10. So, I decided to head for the bank without paying for parking.

After asking several people and looking around, I finally managed to locate Wells Fargo bank, which were delighted to have me open an account with them. They filled in some forms for me and told me my account will be ready in 15 minutes. So, I changed my $10 bill into ones and went to pay for the parking, just as I paid $1 for the ticket, some girl there told me I don't have to pay for parking after 4pm. So I headed back to the bank and picked up all the forms and information required to transfer money and also deposited most of my cash.

After finishing with the bank, I went to a small convenience store nearby and bought something to drink. I forgot to mention that while driving I managed to hurt my finger and start bleeding, and since the landing in SFO I had developed a headache, so it was quite hard concentrating on renting the car and opening the account.

With the more important errand settled I could now drive to the motel. I keyed in the address to the navigation system and drove directly to there. I did have to figure out I had to turn into a side street in order to park, though.

I checked in at the motel and paid for 5 nights ($302.5). The room is very small and has almost no closet space, but has hi-speed wireless Internet, a queen-size bed, and a shower and toilet. I brought my luggage into the room, plugged in my laptop and went on line to check email and make some local calls. Then I went to sleep at about 18:30.

I woke up today at 4:30 am, headache free, and ready to start a new day. My plan for this day: blog, unpack, make a plan. Probably I'll go to Stanford and start settling stuff there.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Last hour in Israel

I am writing this post from Tel Aviv Ben Gurion international airport, in the VIP lounge awaiting my departure to Amsterdam and then to the US.  A few hours ago I said goodbye to both my parents. My father has escorted me all the way to the security gate and helped me carry all my luggage. Now I'm all alone and will remain away from my homeland for seven long months. That's it there's no going back now.

My last day was spent on meeting with a friend, last-minute shopping (shoes), packing, watching some TV, and helping my father with his computer.

It turns out the packing was really optimal. All three bags (two checked and one handbag) were exactly 1/2kg less than the maximum weight allowed.

In  other news, a MD-81 plane has crashed in Phuket, Thailand (HKT). The plane was operated by Two go airlines, and the crash was probably weather related. We'll know more when the investigation report is published. I'm looking forward to another great episode of Air Crash Investigation.

This blog will follow my process of settling down in my new home in the United States and as a means of communication will all of you - my friends back home. In order to make this communication two-way, please do comment with suggestions and encouragement, as well as chatting with me on line.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Tomorrow I’ll be gone

All packed and ready to go (not!)Tomorrow will be my last day in Israel before my big move. Almost everything is packed, the room is clean, and soon I'll be dining a last supper with all of my friends (and it's not even Passover).

I have spent the last few days packing all my stuff, both the stuff that's going with me to the states (three suitcases) and the stuff that stays here (two boxes and several drawers).

Tomorrow I will do some last-minute shopping and laundry and finalize all the packing. My flight leaves at 04:30 on Monday instead of 05:30 due to the fact that Israel ending daylight savings time tonight while Europe will keep on DST until October 28th.

Interestingly enough the US will do the DST move on November 4th. This means that will move my watch backwards by one hour three times the same year (Israel, Europe, and USA).


Now playing: Eagle-Eye Cherry - Save Tonight

Sunday, September 9, 2007

One week to go!

The D-day is getting closer and closer. In one week my life as I know it is going to end, and I'm going to start my new life in Stanford. There is no way back now.

This week I spent mostly on configuring the computer setup at home for the to allow for operation without me physically maintaining it. I have also consolidated hardware from three computers into one server with five hard disks and almost a terabyte of storage.

I still have so many things to do. I have still not closed a deal on the car, haven't even started packing, and still need to buy new shoes, get a haircut, and finish writing a paper before I leave.

Yesterday there was also the family farewell party (it seems many people will be abroad next week, so we did it a week early). We went to Canibar and ate burgers with two of my brothers, parents, and neighbors...

Next week I will hold a farewell party for friends on Saturday 15/9 around 17:00 in El Gaucho Kiryat Motzkin. If you did not receive an invitation by mail and would like to come please e-mail me (party at and I'll add you to the list.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Mexico City - Here I come

Mexico City SkylineIn a previous post I talked about my frequent flyer miles plan for this year, and referred to the topic of a Mileage Run. This weekend I decided to make good on my plans and go on a weekend vacation to Mexico City practically free of charge.

How could I do that? Easy. I started by booking a flight from San Francisco to Mexico city via Atlanta on Delta airlines for $323 including tax and three nights in a hotel for $111 including tax. On the savings side of the equation are four nights in a bay area hotel which costs $220, 12,143 award miles and 6,939 status miles. The award miles are equivalent to half a one-way flight from Tel Aviv to San Francisco. If priced part of a return ticket this is worth about $200. So in all, I pay $434 and save $420. I also save on food due to visits to the airline lounges and on all expenses when I'm in Mexico City.

Anyway, the dates are 27/9 - 1/10/2007. On line updates will be posted.