Thursday, January 29, 2009

Table tennis

I just played one of the best ping-pong games in my life!!

My brother Javier and I used to play a lot during summers in my countryside house. Basically, summers meant ping-pong and swimming pool. ;) During those long hot summers, we ended up playing quite well. At some point, we started competing at amateur level and I won some under-15 tournaments. And my brother was always second or third (and he was under 10 maybe!). So the thing is we stopped playing for some reason.

After many years, I started playing again from time to time at ISU and I realized I was still good. Actually, there were only one or two people who really had a chance to beat me. Really good games down in Strasbourg. Then, I played some more games a bit everywhere, wherever the opportunity appeared: Naoko's mother in Tokyo, in some youth hostel somewhere in my trips...

Now, we have a ping pong table just downstairs, in the recreational room of my apartment complex at Caltech. I started playing more often, like once every other day, and I am getting back in a good shape. Today, I played with one of my Chinese housemates and it was amazing!! So fast, hard and tricky!! It was one hour and in the end we were really sweating. Just like in the good times with my brother. We can both attack and defend quite alright and we have to smash really hard so the other cannot put it back in the table. In the end we played a real game and I won 21-14. Really nice game! Next time I will loose! I was playing at my very limit!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The worst is over

These last days have had a peak of work which has been difficult to put up with. Last night, I could sleep only 3 hours!! And I was working non-stop for 17 hours on Sunday. But it is over now...

The result of this extra effort: 3 homework assignments submitted and more than 40 pages of results written. I will have to see things coming next time... or something like this will happen!!!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Out of control

These last day have been hectic... (I think I already wrote something like that before, but it is the truth)... This weekend I am experiencing a feeling I didn't experience for a long time, since I was a student in Spain: I feel like if I make any minor mistake, things will get out of control in terms of homework, studying, etc.

My five courses are turning out to be really time consuming and deadlines keep on coming at the same time that I can't find time to study for the PhD qualification exams. Ahhh!! I brought a coffee maker from Spain, to drink real coffee which can keep me awake during long nights of work. The last days, I am sleeping at around 3am and waking up at around 9am. It can be done a couple times, but not routinely.

The good point is that now, courses are pretty interesting. I am doing again some real maths: Hilbert and Banach spaces, Fourier transforms, distributions, wavelets, probability... Japanese is getting harder and harder, more and more kanji coming (15 last week), but it is nice to realize you can say more things after some months in the course. Let's see how well I can understand it when I am back to Tokyo in March ;)

With respect to the other courses, Analog circuit design is really good: Ali Hajimiri has reinvented many things and topics such as frequency behavior, feedback, etc are studied in a really different and new way. And it looks very powerful!
Remote Sensing has always been very interesting. Now, we are studying imaging radars: SAR, polarimetric and interferometric SAR, etc. I studied this several years ago, but not with this level of detail! I am really happy with my choices this term.

However busy I am, I am enjoying... must be some new way of masochism! ;)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Venice Beach

Last Monday, it was Dr Martin Luther King's day and a national holiday. Therefore, we had a 3-day weekend at Caltech and I decided to take it easy on Sunday. To relax a bit, I decide to continue with my series of short trips around LA and this time I went to Venice, to visit the canals and the world famous Venice Beach.

Venice is around 45 minutes from Pasadena. So I got into my car and there I went. Parking was kind of hard... The temperature was more than 27 degrees, so many people went to the beach that day and everything was full of cars!! After parking, I walked around the canals in Venice, CA (not Italy! ;) ). And this is what they look like:

Then, I went straight to the beach and walked a bit around watching the nice houses facing the ocean. There are so many interesting houses! I guess you gotta be pretty wealthy to have a house here, and you can afford a good architect for it! :)

And this is the beach. The sand area is really large and there were many people sun-bathing. On the pier, many people (specially Mexican, I do not know why) fishing. And in the water, some surfers enjoying quite big waves! It was interesting to watch people!

Then, I moved to the part where all the crazy people are. Venice Beach is quite famous for people doing strange things. You can smell pot everywhere, people painting graffiti, skateboarders, people cycling anything (one, two or whatever number of wheel!), hippies, punks, street shows and whatever you can imagine!

After walking a bit around and getting surprised many times by the crazy things people were doing... I came back to the beach for a great sunset!

After the sunset, I started feeling like it was time to come back to Catalinas, the graduate students' apartment complex in Caltech, to have some work done. On the way back to my car, I still had some time to take some photos at the canals. Have a look at the second one specially. Yes, it is still Xmas decoration!! and quite crazy...

Thursday, January 22, 2009


It is only two days since I last wrote here and it looks much longer again. Too much work... I will have to get used to it this term...

Yesterday, at 9 a.m. Pacific Time, Barack Obama became president of the United States of America. This date was really expected and, for sure, it has been one of the most expected events of the beginning of this century. Millions of people followed the ceremony in Washington, and many more at home. Literally, all the world had an eye on Obama yesterday.

His first speech as the new president (the 44th, i think...) was impressive! It is worth listening to it again! ;)

He claims bringing transparency and good ethics to the White House, and it looks like that. In his first day, he has stopped the trials at Guantanamo Prison (place he will surely shut down), has frozen the salaries of top representatives and has started working towards freedom of communication in the media. Good!

Many hopes have been put on him, maybe too many, but whatever he can do, it will be for good!!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Two novels by Bryce Echenique

The last two books I have read have been two good novels by the Peruvian writer Alfredo Bryce Echenique. These novels are: "La Vida Exagerada de Martín Romaña" and "El Hombre que hablaba de Octavia de Cádiz".

One book is the continuation of the other one and together, they narrate the story of Martín Romaña, a Peruvian wannabe writer in Paris around 1958. Both books are about love, but also frustration and personal relationships. The situations Martín lives are is he says exaggerated, which makes the story comical at many points. However comical it is, there is a background sadness or melancholy that covers everything. No matter how hard he tries, he can't do anything to improve his situation. And when it looks like nothing can go worse, the situation worsens...

The writer's style is also quite interesting. He writes in quite a messy way, you could ever say he writes whatever he thinks! And he plays with the language quite a lot. So, you have to read the original version in Spanish to catch everything. And it is quite hard if Spanish is not your native language or you are not fluent... but anyway, you can always try! Apart from the special way of writing, the author usually uses flashbacks and flash-forwards which make the novel even messier. He tells you about things that will happen and continuously references what happened in the past.

Overall, these books give you some material to think about and are a nice read.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


I spent my last days of 2008 road-tripping with Naoko to Andalucia, the South of Spain. During some of my trips, I had noticed that there were many cool places I had/have never been to in Spain. For example, in Morocco I discovered the Mosque of Cordoba was the ideal model all mosques tried to follow!! that means the best old mosque in the world was in Cordoba and I had never visited it! quite a shame, isn't it... Same for Sevilla. So, we got into my car and drove the 800km that are between Almansa and Sevilla. The trip went through La Mancha, where we could see some wind mills, and the famous mountain pass of Despeñaperros, which was impressive.

But before getting to Sevilla, we stopped in Cordoba for one day. Cordoba is a really beautiful city. The old town, the Jewish Quarter is a maze of narrow streets and beautiful Andalusian houses. We walked a bit around and made for the most important sight in the city: La Mezquita (mosque) de Cordoba.

La Mezquita is an impressive place. It is actually huge, but the fact that you cannot see high ceilings makes it look smaller. The interior is full of beautiful red and "white" columns which create the renown "forest of columns". But before, we passed by the beautiful patio entrance full of orange trees (with oranges at this time of the year!) and saw the nice Christian tower outside.

And finally, we got in the mosque and saw the famous forest of columns... so nice!!

This is the place which indicates where the Arab saint city of Mecca. Quite gorgeous!

After the reconquest of Cordoba by the Spanish in 1248, the mosque became cathedral. Therefore, it was conveniently reformed for Catholic cult. Now, there are chapels and crosses in many places. It is quite an interesting contrast to see Jesus Christ in such an Moorish context.

And yet, again the nice columns inside... ;)

Outside there are also some beautiful gates.

Then, we tried to get into the Alcazar, where Columbus' proposal to go to India through the Atlantic was financed by the Catholic Kings. However, it was closed!

It was a pity, but then we had some time to enjoy a nice tea in a typical Andalusian house patio and that made us forget about it :)

Finally, some more wandering in narrow streets and back to our car. That night, our hotel was in Sevilla, so we still had to drive one hour and a bit more.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Working days at Caltech

These days have been quite hectic at Caltech: many lectures, homework, exam preparation, possible change of research topic... altogether with the fact that after holidays you do not want to work! ;)

The effect on this blog has been quite clear: I have not written anything from last Sunday!! Do not worry, tomorrow I will be back! (or I hope so! :) )

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hollywood Sign and Mulholland Drive

Today, Sunday, I went for a car ride in LA. There are so many places I do not know yet... but today, it was the turn for one of the most famous landmarks in the city: the Hollywood Sign.

So... I got into my car and drove as close as possible to it! It is only 15-20 minutes away from my appartment!

Then, as I was in the area, I decided to drive along Mulholland Drive, one of the most scenic drives in LA county. Basically, it is a winding road in the mountains North of Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Then it becomes a freeway and gets to the sea past Malibu. However, I did not go so far... Actually, there is a point where the road becomes an unpaved track and you are not allow to enter with your car. You can only hike it. Next time, I will go along the freeway!!

The views are superb and I had to pull out several times to check the landscapes over Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley. At the beginning of the road, there is an impressive viewpoint where I could take these photos:

In this one, LA downtown at the back, Hollywood and Hollywood freeway.

The Hollywood sign once again!

And a close-up on downtown area... and yes... that's SMOG!!! The biggest problem in LA county...

Almansa: my home

It is January 2009, and that means I have been almost four years out of Spain now. Many things have happened in these 4 years and I have lived in many places: France, Japan, Netherlands and USA. I have also done quite some traveling. But no matter how long I have been away, and no matter how far away I am, my home town Almansa will always have a place in my heart. ;)

These days, many of my friends in Almansa complained I did not talk about "the town" in my blog, so there we go!

I checked the pictures I took in my home town in the last year and found some good ones. So, this is my home town! :

First of all, this is a shot from the street where I used to live, Avenida Jose Rodriguez. From here, I could see the beautiful castle and it was so conveniently located I could be everywhere in a couple minutes (that is why I was and am always late!! ;) ).

And this is the castle and the city hall from Plaza de Santa Maria. Maybe the most beautiful spot in all the town.

This is the city hall. Both the castle and the city hall are from the XV-XVI century. The city hall was renovated some years ago and this was the result. Before, it was just a medieval palace and it was closed to the public. Now it houses the city hall offices and it is always open. However, the renovation was too modern maybe...

This is the patio of the city hall, which is also called "Casa Grande".

And this is the original facade, which has not been modified. It looks pretty cool, does it not? :)

And that square is completed with a nice XVI century church, "Iglesia de la Asuncion", whose tower can be seen from many places in town. I like its curved shape and that is what I want to show here!

And then, to make my friends happy, some photos with some of them! Espero que os haya gustado ;) jeje...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Winter Term at Caltech

A new year is here and with it, a new term at Caltech and new courses. The first term here, I took 4 courses: Analog Circuit Design, Physics of Remote Sensing, Signals and Systems and Japanese; together with research and seminars. Some of these courses were really interesting, so I decided to take them all for the second term too.

Hajimiri's course in Analog Design is really hard but you end up learning a lot, so at least you know your effort is worth it. Remote Sensing is taught by the Director of the Physics and Astronomy Directorate at JPL, so it is a pleasure to hear all these topics from one of the pioneers in the topic. Japanese is the first time when I am systematically and seriously studying Japanese, and now it looks like, with methodology and continuous effort, I can properly learn the language! :)

This term, I am taking the continuation of these three courses and have added two more: Stochastic Processes and Wavelets. These two courses are taught by the Applied Mathematics option. In Caltech, PhD students have to cover 3 courses in Maths, so these are my first 2 towards my PhD requirements. Besides, I will have to get some time for research and to prepare for some exams coming in a couple weeks: the mini-orals. If I can pass them, I will be an actual PhD student and not a MSc/PhD student. Just a change of status ;)

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Gozo is the second island in Malta. It is really small, something like 10km on one side and around 5km on the other side. Therefore, you can walk it!! and that is what we did.

When we arrive at the island, we went to the highest point on the shore to see a nice perspective of Comino and Malta, the other two Maltese island. This is what it looks like:

This is Comino with its Blue Lagoon, a lagoon with blue "tropical" waters.

The island is not developed at all, and the biggest town is around 4000 inhabitants, so there are plenty of countryside areas with beautiful landscapes.

The capital city, Rabat, is very old and because of that, beautiful. It is charming. You can get lost in the maze of narrow streets and old houses... it is a nice experience! At least you can scape from modern world for a while!!

The second day in Gozo, we walked to the opposite coast, where many beautiful geological formations are located. While we were walking, we found some beautiful landscapes.

This is the Fungus Rock

A fisherman getting some fish for lunch.

And the beautiful Blue Window,one of Gozo's main attractions.

This is the Citadel in Rabat, a fortress where people hid during the Turkish siege of the island in the 16th Century.

And finally, the oldest megalithic ruins in all Malta, and 500 years older than the Great Pyramids in Egypt!

In short, Malta was an interesting destination. And of course, there are many more things to do apart from going to the beach and partying there!!! ;)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Malta was an interesting destination. In winter, the city losses all the sun-seeking tourist hordes and only local people and a few tourist remain in the islands. That makes the feeling of Malta is different from what you can read in the internet or people have told you. Malta looks very rural, with a few small cities and lots of countryside, and with a lot of history for such a tiny island. Malta has megalithic ruins older than the pyramids in Egypt, medieval buildings and all the buildings left by St Paul's Order, which defended Christianity in the Crusades and against Turkish. All this in an island which can be crossed by bus in around 1 hour.

Valletta, the capital city, looks ancient and beautiful. All the buldings in Malta have been built using calcium-rich rocks, which are yellow colored. The result is everything is yellow.

The legacy of St Paul's Order warriors can be better seen in St Paul's Co-cathedral, where most of the order's masters are buried.

Valletta area is full of bays which have cities with different names. Everything is just a big city, but it looks like Maltese prefer just dividing them for historical reasons. In these photos, views of Vittoriosa and Senglea.

And this is a typical image of Valletta or any Maltese town, narrow yellow streets packed with cars and signs of profound Christianity in the Saints in the corners.

Prehistorical sites are interesting but so old that little can be really seen. However, the few remaining structures are surprising. Tarxien temples have several of those. Have a look to the following photos. The Hypogeum is the best place in Malta, and only around 50 people can visit it each day. I do not have any photos because it is not allowed to use cameras. It is an underground temple where dead people were kept and many rituals took place. It is simply amazing! Do not miss it if you go to Malta!!

And then, the seaside, full of beautiful geological structures and with a perfectly clean Mediterranean sea that takes many colors near the coast. This is called the Blue Grotto.

Near the Blue Grotto, there were two of the best prehistorical temples in Malta and there we went. However, they were closed!! Some structures were being built on top of them to preserve them against wind and rain... or at least that is what we were told.

This is a typical street in Vittoriosa. This little town is really beautiful and is more charming than Valletta. It is worth a visit.

This is the vedette in L'isola (Senglea). You can see the eye watching you ;)

In central Malta, the island keeps a beautiful jewel: Mdina and Rabat. The first is the traditional capital city before St John warriors came to the island and it is really medieval and beautiful. It is so peaceful and full of amazing houses and churches!! Rabat houses Malta catacumbs and many places where St Paul lived when he became Christian. The catacumbs of St Agatha are specially interesting!! Such a labyrinth!

Sliema is Malta's party and commercial city (or district). However, it still has some nice areas, and nice views over Valletta. Have a look at these colorful balconies.

And this is Mosta Dome, such a big dome in such a small town!!! The church looks as big as a whole neighborhood!! It is the second biggest dome in the world!!

And finally, the beautiful boats in Marsaxlokk. Can you see the eyes in their front?! Interesting, isn't it? That is Phoenician legacy :)