Iqon's New Zealand Blog

Tag: Post with pictures

The Container Positioning Problem

by on 27 June 2010, under DTU, New Zealand, UoA

What this post is about
I think I have promised a couple of times that this post would appear on my blog at some point. Apparently “at some point” is exactly this very moment (or rather, probably some seconds/minutes/hours/days/weeks/years/decades/centuries ago, depending on when you have decided to read it compared to the time I wrote this). If you didn’t really care for last semester’s post about my studies (which I of course assume that you, avid reader of my blog, has read long ago), there is a good chance that you will find this post pretty boring as well. I will assume it will become quite nerdy. On the other hand, I don’t expect that anyone would ever choose to visit this blog unless they can handle a bit of nerdiness.

What I study
It seems like a good idea to start from scratch, so that’s what I’ll do, even though I would assume that most people who have somehow ended up at this site already have a vague idea about what it is I study. I am currently trying hard to finish my master’s degree at The Technical University of Denmark (DTU), called MMC Master, an acronym for Mathematical Modelling and Computation Master. The name reveals a good deal about what most of my courses are about: Formulating mathematical models and using them to compute exciting numbers. A mathematical model is not some geeky guy or girl going on catwalks. Neither is it a bunch of clay shaped into numbers, symbols or multiplication signs. They can, however, be (partly) responsible for the bad sense of humor demonstrated in the last two sentences as I have spent almost five years studying them by now. No, mathematical models are a series of formulas set up to represent some kind of real life problem. When all of Europe (and especially the UK) got yet another reason for hating Iceland, this time due to the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull which prevented almost every airplane around Europe from flying, mathematical models were used to estimate the risks of flying through the ash spewed up by the volcano. Likewise, models were created to compute how long the eruption would last and the probabilities that other, larger volcanos in the area, would erupt.

The type of mathematical models I usually deal with are of a bit different kind, however. During my studies, I have chosen to focus on Operations Research (OR). OR uses a combination of statistics, mathematical modeling and mathematical optimization to calculate optimal or near-optimal solutions or proposals to solutions for different decision-making problems. It is heavily used to create production plans and work schedules while it also plays an essential role in route planning and almost any logistic problem you can come up with.

What my thesis is about
My thesis deals with what has been named The Container Positioning Problem. I am writing it with my study buddy, Skott, who was also in Auckland last semester, taking the exact same courses as me. Skott’s description of the project can be read on his blog- it is all in Danish, though, since he’s too lazy to translate it into English. Either that, or he is clever enough to know that it is a waste of time to do the translation since nobody would want to read these kinds of blogs anyway, except for a few family members, perhaps. Many of the people I meet down here seem to be surprised that we are working two people on the same project. I am glad that we do have that opportunity at my university as I’m sure the final result will be more than the sum of its parts. It is extremely helpful to have someone to discuss with on a daily basis about the progress of the thesis, without having to schedule meetings with supervisors who (understandably) don’t know all the exact details of what we have been doing with the project since the last meeting. We have two supervisors, one in Denmark and one in New Zealand who have both been quite unavailable for long periods of time. In those situations it has been even more helpful to be two people on the same project.

The project is about something as exciting as moving containers. When a container ship arrives at a harbor, the containers it brings with it are often paced in a terminal where they will be located for storage for a while, until they need to depart again, either via trucks further into the country, or continue with another ship. In the meantime (between arrival and departure of the containers) it is important to have a plan for how the containers should be moved around at the terminal: A container which is about to leave must not be buried underneath a lot of other containers since the crane can only pick up the ones placed at the top of a stack. It is important to spend as little time as possible to move the containers around; the cranes are expensive to use, especially if they have to be controlled manually, which is still the case at many terminals.

Containers

Containers at Auckland Harbor – can you imagine anything more exciting?

The last couple of years research has been done to try to solve the problem using OR methods. In 2008, Louise K. Sibbesen, a Danish Ph.D. student from DTU, wrote her doctoral thesis about the problem. Her approach was to use a so-called metaheuristic, a method in mathematical optimization which often results in “good” solutions without guaranteeing that the found solutions are also optimal. It is often acceptable to find just “good” solutions (measured in e.g. profit) to many of the problems which occur in real life. These solutions can still easily be better than what a human being would be able to find manually. Even if the solution is “only” on par with the ones that can be found manually there is often a certain value in having a computer program being able to compute these solutions automatically. Often it can be done much faster and the labor cost can be saved. In my bachelor thesis I (and two other people) developed a heuristic to help plan which teachers should be assigned which class to teach during a school year in the high schools around Denmark. Already before the thesis had been handed in, the heuristic had been implemented in the commercial product Lectio, used by the majority of Danish high schools. Later we were awarded the prize for best bachelor thesis at DTU by McKinsey & Co as I also mentioned on this blog last semester.

Optimal solutions are of course always attractive. Therefore, a student from The University of Auckland, Antony Phillips, decided last semester to look at the problem once again but from a different point of view. He wanted to prove that there was another approach to solving the problem which, possibly, could lead to optimal solutions in the future, without using heuristics. Using heuristics is in some circles seen as “cheating” since they don’t necessarily lead to pure, perfect solutions. He wrote about the subject in his Fourth Year Project which is kind of similar to a Danish bachelor thesis. Here he found a number of different mistakes and deficiencies in the original doctoral thesis by Sibbesen.

Skott and I are now trying to carry on the torch with our project. Our goal is to get closer to be able to solve real life sized problems to optimality. We spent the first month on going through the two previous theses about the subject and did find some more mistakes and deficiencies we found it necessary to take into consideration in the mathematical model. The ideal for a mathematical model for problems such as the one we are dealing with, is for it to follow a specific structure which makes the problem linear. Basically this means that there exist certain rules for how the mathematical formulas describing the problem can be set up. The special thing about linear programming (LP), as it is called if the formulation follows this structure, is that there exists certain solution methods (The Simplex method), which can be exploited. These are methods which run extremely fast and have been perfected through many years. Therefore it pays off to comply with these restrictions, even though it also means that a certain amount of thought is required to formulate these models. A mathematical model which describes an LP problem consists of two parts: An objective function plus a number of constraints. The objective function describes the goal for the optimization, which in our case is to minimize the use of the crane at the terminal. The constraints define what is meant by a feasible solution. For instance, our mathematical model contains constraints such as “a container can only be picked up if it is on top of a stack”, “a container needs to be at either exactly one position or be moving at any given time” and “a container needs to arrive to/depart from the terminal at the times specified by the given data”.

After we had spent some time looking into the previous theses we created our own model which corrected the mistakes we found in the original ones. At the same time the model is now more realistic since it captures more details of the problem as it exists in real life. For example the model now constraints how fast the crane can move, not only when it carries a container (which was the case in the original models) but also when it doesn’t carry anything at all. We have also implemented a solution technique which uses a “rolling time window”. Instead of trying to take all containers into consideration which might arrive or depart within the planning horizon, we cut down the focus to be a subset of the full period. In container shipping there often exists great uncertainty about the precise arrival and departure times for the containers. Often precise information doesn’t arrive until fairly close to the actual arrival or departure of the containers themselves. Therefore it doesn’t make sense to make big, detailed plans for every single container since there might very well arrive new information later which can completely ruin the meticulously laid plan. What we do instead is to focus on containers which are about to depart or arrive in a given period. The placement of a container which doesn’t depart until much later is fairly irrelevant as long as it doesn’t create conflicts with a container that is actually about to depart which need to get to the top of a stack so the crane can pick them up. The solution technique we use thereby focuses on the containers which are about to depart within a foreseeable future (a day or two). It is a continuously running solution process which moves the time window focused on as time goes by. Not only does this solution technique represent the reality much better than an assumption about all information being known from the very beginning; working with smaller time periods also makes the problem significantly easier to solve, resulting in faster solution times.

With this method (and a number of other clever techniques) we have accomplished some pretty good results so far. A problem which took 3000 seconds to solve previously, after Philips’ modifications to the original model, now takes about 50 seconds to solve. That is a fairly good improvement. Our program cannot yet solve problems so big that they could represent real life cases, though. Especially Skott has also spent a good deal of time on implementing a Graphical User Interface (GUI) from which I have included a couple of screenshots below.

Problem generation.png
Our program can be used to create random data sets.

Solution process.png
The solution process.

Gantt Diagram.png
A Gantt-diagram which shows the solution computed by our program.

3D visualization 1.png
3D visualization of the solution.

3D visualization 2.png
Example of a container being moved.

And that is pretty much our project. We are supposed to hand it in in the beginning of August and present it a couple of weeks after. We will be using the last available time to test our program, discuss the results and make some conclusions on our formidable work.

What these headlines are doing in this blog post
Pass… Maybe it is a weak attempt to make this text, full of technical terms and container talk, seem more clear and less boring. I think I failed (but at least the container pictures are colorful).



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Taranaki, Wagamama’s and Eurovision

by on 18 June 2010, under New Zealand, PSV

Interesting fact: The following post the very first this semester receiving the tag “Me complaining”. That specific tag was one of the most heavily used last semester. In comparison “Ankles” has been used three times this semester and “Anti climatic endings” four times. Thank you, Wagamama’s for ruining a good run. You can see all the different tags I have used on the blog on the right, including old favorites such as “Public toilets”.

Wooh! It is time to actually (almost) catch up with the present on this blog after having been several weeks behind. Yay! And so much enthusiasm as well! Three exclamation marks in just two lines – and here is another one: !

This semester I have really wanted to go on some hikes but due to several different circumstances (waiting for other people to have the time and the car to be willing to drive) it didn’t happen until a couple of weeks ago. The trip went to Taranaki which had also been the plan a couple of weeks earlier. We were seven people who went in two groups: Skott, Tor and I (the Scandinavians) in one group and Ilana, Jeremy, Mickey and Max (Americans + a Frenchman) in the other. We, in the first group, left fairly early in the morning (especially considering it was a Saturday) while the other group followed some hours later since Max had to teach some tennis lessons before he could go. We were going on a two days’ hike where the first day was fairly short (about 4 hours according to Department of Conservation) while the next day was supposed to be much longer (7-10 hours). The plan was for the two groups to meet in the hut after the first day’s short hike. The first group had to buy and bring the food for the rest to minimize the risk that the second group had to walk too far in the dark.

Mount Tarankai/Egmont is fairly easy to locate on a map due of its very iconic cone shape, as I also mentioned in my last blog post. Unfortunately it was too late in the season to actually climb all the way to the top of the mountain without having to use ice axes and cramp-ons. It would be possible to rent them but you would have to prove that you actually knew how to use the equipment – such an unreasonable requirement. The hike we went on was therefore not straight up the mountain – we did have it in background for most of the hike, providing a pleasant scenery. I had been a bit nervous that the hike might be a bit boring with just an even-leveled path since we weren’t going up the mountain. Luckily I had no reason for such fears. It was actually a quite interesting hike; some places it was hard to see that it was actually a proper path since rocks were lying everywhere. When we realized that the other group was so delayed that they would have to do the entire first day’s hike in the dark, I called them and warned them not to do it. It didn’t really seem like a very good idea to climb around on those rocks in the dark with a scary chasm at one of the sides. We had enough trouble just crossing in daylight. They didn’t really seem to listen to me, though.

As is tradition: Haka before the hike
It has become a tradition to start our hikes with a haka

Tramping on the edge
A small example of some of the rock slides we had to cross the first day.

Norwegian, scouting for the path
Tor, scouting for the path.

We arrived at the hut exactly as it got dark which was pretty lucky since none of us had brought flashlights. We spent a good deal of time trying to light a fire which proved to be quite difficult since none of us had thought about bringing matches or a lighter either (I guess we weren’t really well-prepared). However, since we were three engineers we figured that we should be able to create fire somehow. Immediately Skott started trying the well-known “wood-against-wood-makes-fire” trick. Since the hut was lit by light bulbs powered by solar collectors we also considered the possibility of short-circuiting one of them, giving rise to a useful spark. We spent some time considering different options until I in the end chose to take the lighter hanging on the notice board and suggesting we could maybe use that.

4) Stab the piece of wood
Skott, trying to create fire.

When it was about 9pm we figured it was time to go to bed. At this point we had realized that the others had probably chosen to listen to my warnings and skipped the hike. They arrived at 10pm after having spent five hours on the same trip we spent two and a half to do.

The second day was very nice with a view of the mountain most of the day. About halfway through the hike, which ended up taking about eight hours, the nature of the path changed dramatically. While the first part had consisted of either stairs or level ground, the second half offered almost vertical drops which made for some quite interesting climbs. There were also a couple of rivers we had to cross by walking around on slippery rocks. During the last half hour I managed to throw away my lens cap for my camera and twist my ankle (as I had predicted I would do in the beginning of the day – I love my ankles) – these were two separate occurrences. Just as we were done with the hike it started to rain. It kept raining for the six hours it took to drive back to Auckland. Such a nice end.

Traditional pre-hike haka. Max (and partly Ilana) didn't get the idea
We tried to introduce the other group for the idea about starting the day with a haka. Max (and to some degree Ilana) obviously didn’t manage to grasp the concept.

Mount Taranaki and a group of posers
Mount Taranaki with Max, Skott and Tor posing in front of it.

... and still climbing down
As I mentioned, some places the path just went straight down. Luckily, ladders were placed at the worst parts

Some places the track was hidden pretty well. This sign says "Track", quite helpful
The path was sometimes quite hard to find. The sparse markings with signs did however help us find our way.

The suspension bridge where I threw away my lenscap - and minutes after twisted my ankle. Yup, I am a genius
The suspension bridge where I chose to throw my lens cap away.

The following Monday I went to Wagamama’s for the first time for the dinner which is held for the PSV residents once every semester. It was a very chaotic and messy dinner. We were split up at three long tables and the dishes arrived in an order which appeared to be fairly random to me. A lot of people got their main before the starter and long before a lot of other people at the table had received any food at all. We quickly found out that you just had to eat whatever you were served when it was served since you had no idea when anything else would arrive for either you or the others sitting around you, staring hungrily and jealously at your food. I think our table got the desserts before those sitting at the last table got their starters. The serving of the dessert was also disappointing. Many (including me) had ordered cheesecake which the waiter didn’t have any problems with. When the others around me started getting their desserts and I could see I wasn’t about to have any, I asked the waiter where my cheesecake was. Apparently they never had it. One of the alternatives, a chocolate cake with ice cream, they only had five pieces of. Not too organized when you know a big group is coming. The food was fine, though.

Tuesday I went (alone) to the cinema to see Kick-Ass which I am really happy I did. It is an amazing movie about a relatively geeky guy who wonders why nobody has tried to become a superhero in real life. After this realization he naturally decides to try it out himself. The movie develops into something completely different by the end – almost as if it is three different movies of different genres, each extremely entertaining. The end of the movie contains action sequences which reminded me of some of Tarantino’s amazing movies which is probably one of the strongest recommendations I can give.

Thursday I had been invited for dinner at Jocelyn’s, one of the two Frenchmen who I went to Samoa with. crêpes were served and wine was drunk in a truly French manner. It was a very enjoyable evening.

Sunday I got up at 7 to watch the Eurovision with Tor. Unfortunately we missed about 10 songs in the middle of the show because the stream died. We did get to see the random stuntman running onto the stage during Spain’s performance (I thought he was part of the show until the hosts pointed out that Spain of course would get to sing again since their song had been ruined), Moldova’s amazing attempt to one-up last years winner by not only having a fiddle, but a glowing one (with a lot of other craziness added). We also got to see Germany’s winning song and Denmark’s performance. I was very happy when Denmark received top points from the first two countries after which Lena from Germany started getting all the points which in the end resulted in her winning. Tor was happy that Norway managed to (only just) beat Moldova and I was amused about the fact that the UK, which is secured a spot in the final each year since they put so much money into the Eurovision, ended dead last with only 10 points (Denmark had 12 points after the very first of 39 countries had given their votes). Tor and I agreed that we were content with Lena winning, though, since that resulted in a memorable interview with an extremely nervous 19 year old girl who didn’t look comfortable on the stage at all. It didn’t help that she had to be interviewed in English which was obviously not her language of preference. Classic moments such as a very cautious “Hiiiii” as answer to a number of questions she did not understand or “I… I don’t think I am strong enough… to carry this… the whole time” about the trophy she had just been handed immediately appear in my head. The same does the image of the poor German girl who tries to hide by wrapping her head in the German flag when the whole situation becomes too much for her and at last her surprised expression when she realize she has to sing again (“Do I have to sing… NOW?”). Luckily the stream continued for a bit after her song was over: They just let her stay on the stage without anyone helping her. She had no idea what to do or say and in the end she had to switch to German in order to at least manage to mumble something remotely coherent until they unfortunately turned off the stream.

Later that day Ilana, Max and I went on a small trip to Rangitoto Island, a small volcanic island close to Auckland. It was a nice little walk up and down the volcano. We had a very nice view of Auckland from the top. The weather was perfect with the sun shining from a cloudless sky. I am still amazed that it is possible to have such beautiful weather, now that we have officially entered winter here in New Zealand. I don’t get where the annoying, bitter cold, the persistent darkness and the horrible snow, that completely ruins your chances of going anywhere without getting your feet wet, have gone. It is definitely not winter, as I know it, and I am quite happy about that.

DSC_1896
View from Rangitoto. Auckland is the city in the world with most boats per capita.

As I also mentioned last time I have been quite bad at writing blog posts this semester (thereby not implying I was doing a good job of it last semester either). Hopefully I will manage to write at least a couple more before I leave New Zealand. However, it has started to dawn upon me that I will have to leave soon. Students all around me are busy with exams which is usually a sign that the semester is about to end. At the same time a lot of people have started talking about leaving resulting in the mandatory invitations for goodbye parties. Indeed, some people have already left which of course is very sad. Unfortunately that is how it always goes with these studies abroad, as I have now started to get so accustomed to.

Coming up: A post about what it is I spend my normal weekdays on down here!

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Wine tasting, comedy and rugby

by on 6 June 2010, under New Zealand, PSV

I have been pretty bad at writing blog posts this semester; to the disappointment of a lot of people, I am sure. Last time I teased about stories about wine tasting and a failed attempt to go on a hike – but wait! There’s more! Included in this month’s edition of my blog post is also comedy and rugby, amongst other things. Very interesting indeed.

But we start at the wine tasting which at this point took place more than a month ago; proof that I have been horrible at producing these amazing blog posts people have become so used to. On the other hand, there is always guarantee for quality, fun and clever remarks. The first weekend in May was the one I spent so much time on last time: The one with air guitar, kiwi fruits and quidditch. A quick side note about quidditch: I will probably not get to see it in NZ. The people who arrange the tournament have chosen to place the matches at a school a bit away from here. I think it might look a bit suspicious if I showed up at a school, in the middle of a weekend, to watch a bunch of kids playing quidditch. But back to the wine tasting: Kirsty, Ilana (again, people from Flat 15), Max (French guy who at this point is as big a part of Flat 15 as I am, without any of us actually living there) and I chose to complete an amazing weekend by going to Waiheke Island on a sunny Sunday. Waiheke Island is located about 30 minutes by ferry from Downtown Auckland. It is (by my personal experience) a sunny island, filled with fantastic beaches and a very laid back atmosphere. The island is well-known for its plentiful wine production and is a popular place for people to go visit and taste the different wines each vineyard has to offer. It was a very enjoyable way to end the weekend. We went to three different vineyards which all had different approaches to how they presented the wines. At Stonyridge Vineyard we bought two glasses of wine to share among the four of us. We enjoyed these wines while sitting outside, enjoying the sun and the green fields surrounding us.

Tasting wine at Stonyridge Vineyard. We all quite enjoyed "Luna Negra"
Stonyridge Vineyard – it was here we found our favorite wine on the trip, Luna Negra.

Wine notes or lyrics creation...
As the the true Frenchman, Max is, he felt a sudden surge of inspiration with the first taste of proper wine. Here he is in the midst of writing lyrics for his song.

From Stonyridge Vineyard we continued to Te Whau where we got to taste the same wine from different years. Here they did do a better job of actually presenting the wines. The wine reminded Max of his home region, Bordeaux, to such an extent that he had to invest in two bottles of wine.

Te Whau Vineyard
People sitting, enjoying their wines at Te Whau.

The final stop of the day was Mudbrick Vineyard, one of the most popular vineyards at Waiheke. Here the presentations of the wines were a bit more like we had expected before the trip, with six different wines in six minutes, with a brief description of each attached. We got the abridged version of the wine tasting since a wedding reception was about to take place. That someone would choose a place like that to host their wedding did make a lot of sense – the surroundings were amazing.

Bride and groom arrives at the wedding held at Mudbrick Vineyard
Bride and groom arrive at the wedding reception at Mudbrick Vineyard.

The plan for the following weekend was to go to Taranaki to do the first hike of the semester. Taranaki is an area 5-6 hours drive Southwest of Auckland. The destination was Mount Taranaki/Egmont, a very iconic volcano which is easy to spot when looking at a map of New Zealand since it is almost perfectly shaped like a cone, meaning it appears as a clear circle (or, to be correct, a disk since a circle technically only refers to the circumference of the complete area) on the map. The plan was that Ilana, Mickey (Ilana’s friend), Tor (Norwegian whom I know from last semester and sometimes play squash against) and I had planned to leave early Saturday morning in order to go on a two day hike near the volcano and still be able to be back before the weekend was over. The trip never took place, though since the dear Subaru Legacy, which has been acting so loyal ever since Skott and I bought it last semester, chose to simply stop after having driven a couple of hundred meters. It happened in the middle of The Domain, the park Parnell Student Village is placed right next to. After having tried to start the car for a couple if hours (which among other things involved asking random runners for help with pushing the car) we had to cancel the trip. In the end the battery in the car had been so drained that not even the hazard lights functioned anymore. I had to pay 80 NZD to get the car towed back the 500-800 meters we had managed to push it through the park. The membership Skott and I bought from AA (Automobile Association) was only in his name which meant he had to be present if we were going get anything out of it. Skott and I met at my place the following Monday to get the car repaired somehow. Before we tried anything else, Skott wanted to try one last time to start the car. None of us were very hopeful, though, as it is seldom very easy to start a car with a dead battery. It worked, though. We drove it to a repair shop where we were told they couldn’t really find the problem until the car wouldn’t start again. Since then, the car has been working fine.

That week in general was pretty eventful with plans for every day. Tuesday meant yet another of my weekly salsa lessons. I still don’t really know why I did take those lessons but I did manage to survive the eight lessons I payed for (although I only showed up for six of them). After Salsa, I went to see Iron Man 2 with Skott and Vegard. I have almost completely neglected going to the cinema this semester which is stupid of me since the tickets here are extremely cheap (10 NZD) compared to what I would have to pay in Denmark. I must try to correct that mistake during my last month in the country. I feel like using the good old cliché “OK, without being anything special” to describe the movie (at least, something similar is a quite well-known phrase used over and over for movie and video game reviews in Denmark). However, that does not really say anything about it. I remember the first movie to be much better and more entertaining, resulting in a slight disappointment about the sequel; a bit too much empty-headed action and a completely irrelevant side story only used to try to setup the upcoming Avengers movie which I do look forward to, mostly because Josh Wedon has been chosen as the director. Vegard complained that the movie was too unrealistic – I’m not quite sure what he had expected when he walked in to see a superhero movie.

Wednesday I participated in a sports tournament (interres) for the second week in a row. This tournament has taken place during most of the semester and requires the different student housings to compete against each other in different kinds of sports. I represented PSV for two weeks by playing handball for them. It was very interesting since nobody down here really knows about the fantastic (Danish) invention, handball is. Those who have been following my blog ridiculously closely might remember that I in the beginning of the semester signed of for “Beginner’s handball”. Contrary to the salsa lessons I only showed up for the very first handball lesson where I realized it was a bit too much “beginner’s” for my taste. I was offered to play matches for their “Advanced” team. Unfortunately I never did pull myself together to contact the relevant person about it. I also think their matches were placed at bad times, though. The interres tournament was a good opportunity for me to get to play a bit of handball again. It was very entertaining to see people’s take on the sport. Naturally it ended up looking more like basketball than normal, European handball. Most people seemed to enjoy it, though, which I guess is the most important part.

Thursday we went to see a comedy show. It was the last week of the three week’s comedy festival so it was one of the last chances we had to get to see one of the many comedians who performed during those weeks. The biggest difficulty was deciding on a show since there were so many to choose between. They all had descriptions which basically stated that the show was funny and since we didn’t know any kiwi comedians it was very hard to tell which shows would be good and which would be bad. Kirsty and I spent a whole evening cutting down the big list of candidates to just one person. The process of elimination included removal due to unforgivable traits such as “being British” (Kirsty’s request), “being a woman”, “having a bad description of the show” or “appear so far down the list of candidates that we cannot possibly include anymore for the next round”. Of course the process did not stop here. Thorough YouTube research was applied along with the creation of a complex point system based on e.g. show length, price and extra features such as being able to sit around tables. We ended up being a group of eight who went to see Brendan Lovegrove who is apparently a fairly well-known Kiwi comedian. He had a couple of jokes which were quite funny but in general it was a bit disappointing. His show seemed to aim at the lowest common denominator (intelligence wise). Most of the jokes had some vaguely racist tendencies or included silly masturbation gesticulations. Our group had been spread around most of the room since we were told to fill up all the tables in front. They didn’t want empty spaces since the show was being recorded. Even though we had been spread out like that, Brendan still managed to pick out almost every single member of the group. He kept returning to me which wasn’t really that surprising since I had managed to place myself on the first row, directly in front of him. Unfortunately the man seemed to be too unintelligent to be able to come of with any kind of relevant jokes concerning me (that should be quite easy, I would say). He did keep returning to the subject of Denmark, clearly not knowing the slightest thing about it. At least I wasn’t accused of being in a boy band which has happened twice before (out of three times) when I have gone to see standup in Denmark. I guess that is progress.

Friday it was time to celebrate Esther (another Flat 15 member) in occasion of her birthday. This was done with dinner at an Indian restaurant followed by a variety of cakes back in Flat 15. I have become pretty used to going there for cake or other baked goods.

Saturday we went to see rugby. Auckland Blues against Hamilton Chiefs. Going to a rugby match was still left on my list of things I needed to do before I leave New Zealand. It was fairly entertaining (the home team, Blues won) and it was nice having Max by my side so he could explain the rules as the game was progressing. I don’t think it is a sport I will ever really get. There are too many breaks and far too many situations with men who throw themselves into a big pile to hug each other.

Another scrum
I feel this situation is very typical for rugby: A lot of men hugging each other.

That's one popular pole!
At times the rugby players also share their love with different objects. Here they are cuddling with a pole.

Being thrown high into the air
Throw-ins in rugby are quite interesting. They are not only throwing the ball but also each other.

I am still a couple of weeks behind in telling about what I’m doing in New Zealand. I also need to post something about my thesis. But that will be another time since I have already spent far too much space writing about (for the common reader) fairly irrelevant events. I’m not certain this sudden end qualifies the post for the famous “anti-climatic endings”. But it is my blog, and I decide, so of course this is another post with that tag attached to it.

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Last couple of weekends

by on 19 May 2010, under New Zealand

As it so often happens with my blog posts I end up writing the introduction after I have written the rest of the post itself. This is a practice I use in order to be able to inform/warn about what is going to follow. Thus, I can reveal that this post on the one hand is kind of informative and on the other is completely irrelevant. If you have ever wanted to get a deeper insight into new ways to eat kiwi fruits, how excited people can get about air guitars or how other people have adapted a fictive sport which among other things involve flying broom sticks, feel free to keep reading. This was the blog post I teased about a couple of weeks ago.

I spend most of my weekdays on the project Skott and I work on from 9 to 5 every day. The weekends I try to do as much as I can to enjoy my spare time which I have definitely succeeded in doing.

Sunday three weeks ago it was Anzac Day. This day is used as a remembrance day for the people who died and served during military operations for New Zealand. The day is a national holiday which made most of the shops close. It was funny to see how people went berserk in the local supermarket, Foodtown, just because they wouldn’t be able to buy groceries for one day – a Sunday, even. It was like seeing people trying to stock up on yeast during a strike in Denmark!

The day itself was celebrated with ceremonies and parades. By Auckland Museum, which is about two minutes from PSV where I live, there was a ceremony at dawn and one a bit later in the morning. I did not manage to get up in time for the first one (six o’clock a Sunday morning did seem a bit unrealistic) but I did go to the ceremony at 11 o’clock.

Red (and shaky) museum
Auckland Museum is always lit in some color during the night. On the occasion of Anzac Day the light was red.

In my oppinion a museum might not be the perfect screen for movie clips from old wars
The museum was used as a screen for movie clips from old wars. Apparently they had been edited by Peter Jackson. It did not make them that much more interesting, though.

More music
Parade before the ceremony.

I had been confused for weeks why I sometimes saw random people just standing and staring into this monument. They were practicing for the ceremony
I was so happy when I saw these uniformed men stare into this monument during the entire ceremony. In the weeks leading up to the event, I had walked through The Domain (the park in which the museum is located) and had seen some people standing right in front of the monument, just staring blankly into it. I thought that they (or I) had gone crazy. Apparently it was simply a part of the ceremony so everything ended up making sense.

The weekend after became much more interesting, weird and informative, mostly due to the following three discoveries which will be detailed below:

1) Kiwi fruits can be eaten with the skin on them.
2) There exist world championships in air guitar.
3) people play quidditch in real life.

1)
I was told by James and Ilana (both from Flat 15) that there actually is nothing wrong with eating the skin of the kiwi fruit which did surprise me a lot (I think it was new for them as well). I have never really been too fond of the kiwi fruit, mostly because they are not handy at all. Either you have to chop a lot of “sides” of them to get a respectable chunk of pure pulp or you have to use both a knife and a spoon (or alternatively a spife, which should be especially useful for eating kiwi fruits). After having eaten a whole kiwi fruit with skin and everything Friday night without feeling particularly ill afterwards, I decided to look up whether or not it had actually been a good idea. Wikipedia explains it pretty well:

“The kiwifruit skin is edible and contains high amounts of dietary fiber. In a fully matured kiwifruit one study showed that this as much as tripled the fiber content of the fruit. In addition, as many of the vitamins are stored immediately under the skin, leaving the skin intact greatly increases the vitamin c consumed by eating a single piece of kiwifruit when compared to eating it peeled. As with all fruit, it is recommended that if eating the skin, the fruit be washed prior to consumption.”

2)
I have heard about air guitar before, of course. The art of going berserk on a fictional guitar isn’t a completely new idea, I think. However, I had always thought that was something that happened behind close doors in rooms of teenagers with unrealistic dreams of becoming a rock star… I was wrong (which is something, might I add, which doesn’t occur that often). Apparently there exists championships where you have to dress like a fool and jump around on the stage like an idiot while pretending to be in control of the sounds of the loud guitar solo coming from the speakers behind you. “Championships” as in people actually going halfway around the world each year to weird places (this year Finland) to compete in being the best in the world at this! The concept has finally arrived in Denmark this year where the first annual championship in air guitar was just held. Of course Sidney Lee was the host… people reading this blog in English probably has no idea about who Sidney Lee is and that is probably for the best. He is one of those people who is famous for being famous. If you are really curious about him, I will suggest you go back to one of my posts from August last year where I made a post with a bad, bad Sidney Lee reference. Anyway, in New Zealand the phenomenon (air guitar, not Sidney Lee) has apparently existed for years. Friday some weeks ago Ilana, Kirsty (both from Flat 15), one of Kirsty’s friends and I went to the official finale of this year’s NZ air guitar competition. It was a very bizarre experience which I have trouble explaining better than the photos below will.

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Unfortunately I seem to have forgotten the names of most of the artists but I can deliver other info instead. Info 1: The participants had roadies! I have no idea what their job was but apparently it does take a whole team to setup fictional instruments.

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Info 2: The winner was found using three criterai: 1) “Technical merit”, meaning how well the participants pretend to hit the right frets, accords etc. 2) “Stage presence”, whether the participant has the charisma of a rock star and manages to capture the audience with his performance. 3) “Airness”, a very subjective criterion stating how much the performance on the scene is art in and by itself.

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Info 3: The competition consisted of two rounds. In the first round the participants get to decide which piece they are going to pretend to play guitar to. In the second round all the artists perform to the same song. This meant that we had to listen to the same thing ten times in a row (one for each participant plus the initial playing of the song so they had an idea about what they were going to pretend to play). Randy on the photo was our favorite and we had expected him to win. Apparently he did not which we did not find out until later: We left the show before the winner had been found.

3)
Quidditch is a fictional sport from the Harry Potter books. The participants fly around on magic broomsticks, throw balls through rings and after each other and try to catch a small magic ball with wings (the snitch) which flies around by its own volition.

In other words its a sport which fits perfectly into the real world and the laws of physics which govern it. Muggle quidditch is the fitting name for the sport where people run around with broomsticks between their legs, dressed in capes while they throw balls through custom-made rings which have been designed with that specific purpose in mind. The most important element is of course the snitch which role is played by a neutral player, dressed in gold and wings, who runs around in an area much bigger than the field and needs to be caught before the game can end. A fantastic combination of dodgeball, (European) handball, hide-and-seek, sometimes ultimate frisbee and an enormous amount of insanity.

The reason I mention this sport is because I a couple of weeks ago (same weekend as the air guitar competition) found out that it exists as a real life sport.Auckland Quidditch Association currently has 446 members who constitute 19 different teams which are now going to play in a tournament. I became extremely excited when I realized that they had apparently played their opening match of the season in The Domain (the park just two minutes from where I live) just a week before. I also became very disappointed with the people who had actually seen this going on for not having mentioned to me that people had invented this crazy game and were competing in it for real. Some people (Kirsty for example) did however share my fascination of the absurd fact that this actually exists as an organized sport. Unfortunately I have yet to see the sport live but hopefully I will get to see it before I leave New Zealand.

We could not find people playing quidditch in the Domain (which I was VERY disappointed by) but at least the sky was pretty
We tried to look for quidditch in The Domain… all we found was a weirdly colored sky.

So much nothingness… next time it will be about wine tasting and failed attempts to go on hiking trips.

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Samoa

by on 4 May 2010, under Uncategorized

Normally I would probably start off with some nonsense like “it has been a while since I last wrote something on my blog but a lot has happened since then and now I think it is time for an update”. This would most likely be followed by some weird excuses for why it has taken such a long time, like “I have been busy with the discovery of muggle quidditch and air guitar”. But I won’t do that this time. Instead I will go directly to the essential part of this post: My Samoa trip.

A week was spent on Samoa. We were eight people on the trip: Øystein (Norwegian), Tor (Norwegian), Helle Kristine (Norwegian), Max (French), Jocelyn (French), Richard (English), Regina (German) – and then me, the only Dane. I have come to the conclusion that the trip is best described through photos.

Random guy ready for the ferry to arrive at Savai'i, the west island of Samoa.
The first day we took the ferry to Savai’i, the most western of Samoa’s two main islands.

Every night we slept in fales (huts) like these, right next to the beach
Each night we slept in fales (huts), placed on or just by the beach. Amazing experience. These fales are build without walls so you get cooled by the wind during the night. This was also needed with 30 degrees (Centigrade) day and night and about 80% humidity (except for when it was pouring down).

Sunrise the first morning in Samoa
Sun rise my first day in Samoa.

"Paradise in He(...)" - try guessing the name of the bus before going to the next picture. People tend to get it wrong.
We chose to continue by bus the second day. The bus was filled with locals who were all returning from the biggest town in Savai’i with their newly bought groceries which were spread all over the floor of the bus. They were extremely nice and friendly, squeezing even closer together to make room for us tourists. Try guessing the full name of the bus (people are often wrong).

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Jane’s Beach Fales where we stayed a couple of days provided some entertainment the first night. They postulated it was “traditional” Samoan dance. Here they are dancing to the sound of Grease Lightnin’ (also note the gigantic speakers in the background).

We went to church Sunday. Everybody seemed grateful that these Europeans had chosen to visit their church. Here two girls are posing at the entrance
People in Samoa are very religious. Every village (which can easily consist of just a couple of houses) has its own church. At some point we considered renting bikes to go around the island on a Sunday. We were warned that people on especially the northern part of Savai’i didn’t like to see people doing any kind of exercise, including biking (that I, as a Dane, see biking more as a means of transportation is something completely different) on a holy Sunday. Sunday morning we went to church to get insight into what the locals spend their Sundays on. They were extremely grateful that we had bothered to visit their church. They all thanked us after the service, which was partly held in English so we could understand it.

Tree growing inside the a church covered by lava about 100 years ago
To complete the Sunday we went to another church, this one of a somewhat different kind, though. It was overflown by lava about 100 years ago and is of course not used any more (except as a tourist attraction).

Me, not posing
The Lonely Planet book about the Pacific contains only about 20 pages about Samoa which probably says a bit about how few tourist attractions are actually located in the country. The Samoa experience is mostly about relaxing at beautiful beaches, perhaps with a bit of snorkeling. Which I am not going to complain about. The guide book does mention a few places worth visiting, though. One of them are these so-called “blowholes”, special rock formations which makes the water splash meters into the air when the waves hit against them.

Richard swimming around at the Afu Aau Waterfall
We also went to the Afu Aau Waterfall. Here Richard is seen swimming around.

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We spent a single night at “The Author’s Choice” from Lonely Planet from a couple of years ago, Virgin Cove. It was by far the most expensive place we stayed and seemed a bit too “touristy” and “protected” for my taste. Of course it did not help that it rained constantly the day we had there. I was rather productive, though, as the photo above proves. The day did not become a complete waste of time, after all.

Me and my new pet crab
From the most expensive place we could find in Samoa, we went to the cheapest one. In the village Tafatafa we stayed three days at some fales owned by a woman who had spent about 40 years in New Zealand but had now returned home to enjoy the relaxed Samoan lifestyle. She seemed extremely happy to have visitors from Europe – apparently, we were the first ones to visit from that part of the world. The place had been hit by the tsunami about seven months earlier and they were still rebuilding. Since tourism is a big part of the Samoan economy, the family had been promised money if they quickly rebuilt the facilities so they could keep attracting tourists. Seven months later they still had not seen any money from the government. Oh, and the photo is one of me and a crab.

Me enjoying coconut milk
Accommodation for three nights and eight meals ended up costing about 55 NZD per person. Not bad at all. Among other things we were served coconuts, as it can be seen on the photo above.

Me presenting Robert Louis Stevenson's house (the guy who wrote Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Richard, Øystein and I went past Robert Louis Stevenson’s house which is now a museum. Robert is probably best known for two books: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Treasure Island. He spent the last five years of his life on Samoa.

To make it feel more like home, Robert had a fireplace installed. It was obviously never used (there wasn't even a chimney) since Samoa is way too hot
In order to feel more at home, Stevenson had a fireplace installed in the living room. Of course it was never used (there wasn’t even a chimney) since it is way too hot in Samoa to have any kind of fire lit inside.

Richard with his new battle axe
Before we went back to Auckland with the plane we visited a market in the capital Apia. Rhichard invested in a giant battle axe.

Me and colors
”Me and colors” – after a week without shaving.

I appologize for this very “fact”-based post (“then we did this and then we did that”) but I hope some of the nice photos can make up for it. As always, all my photos from my adventures in New Zealand (and now Samoa) can be seen at Flickr. I also have some quotes from the trip which I will probably put up at some point. I think they might only be funny if you know Max in particular – but I’ll still put them up. Also! I will tell you about quidditch soon (see, that is an excellent teaser).

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