2016-12-01

Warden Brudfors

Usually, it takes me quite a while of sporadic writing to compile a blog post, which probably is the reason as to why the update frequency here is low. I am sorry for that and will now try to give you a summary of what has been going on the past months (which will include a lot of photos!).
Summer day at Yxlan in the Stockholm archipelago. My nephew is just about to follow my lead. The two weeks I spent there this summer were key for me completing my thesis, and relieved a lot of stress too! 
After I came back from my climbing trip in France (see previous post), I spent the rest of the summer finishing up my MRes thesis (partly in Sweden, mostly in London). This thesis was a requirement for the first year of my PhD. The PhD program I am on is four years in total, where the first part involves obtaining a Master of Research (MRes), the second part a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) and the last, and final part, a Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil=PhD). I am happy to tell you that I passed my exams and my thesis was accepted and I have therefore finished the MRes stage and moved on to the MPhil. Hopefully, I will be able to upgrade from MPhil to DPhil within a year. And yes I know, all these degree abbreviations are confusing...

I am now working in a different building than during my first year, called the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging. It is next to the British museum, close to the Russel Square tube station. It is a nice, quiet spot and my desk is next to a window, overlooking a little park. Work is going pretty well (I think). It is challenging... but I don't think I would want it any other way. Still, sometimes it can be frustrating when you have been banging your head against the same problem for a week... The topic of my PhD is to recover image quality in hospital MRI data using de-noising and super-resolution techniques, and later to derive algorithms for lesion segmentation in brain MR images.

My MRes thesis on resolution recovery in brain MRI.
Below are photos from the two week vacation I had in Canada in September, after I handed in my thesis. The trip was nice and well needed; it was great to be with Lina and to meet with her family. This time I spent all the time on the east coast of Canada, in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. The trip consisted of climbing, kayaking, drinking loads of Tim Hortons coffee and lots and lots of simple, quality time. I really like it in Canada: a that country never seems to disappoint. Hopefully I will be able to go back again soon.

When I arrived Ottawa, I picked up a rental car that was meant to take Lina and me around Ontario and Quebec. Obviously, I had chosen the smallest and most budget car that Avis could offer. So imagine my surprise when we were given a free upgrade to a luxury sedan. Cruising the highways of Canada became a little more fun... :)

Lina and I spent one week at Crosby lake in Ontario where her family has a little cottage. As you can see, the sunsets were at times amazingly pretty!

In Quebec, Lina and I met with our friend Alice who is French Canadian. She took us to an amazing place called Kamouraska on the south shore of the Saint Lawrence River. 
In Kamouraska there were some really good rock climbing. Alice was actually one of the people who taught me a lot about climbing when we lived in Vancouver. I hadn't seen her in around three years and it felt great to catch up again and also to be able to do some climbing together.
I don't know if you remember, but last time I wrote here I was living in Wood Green, in north-east London. It was pretty nice, I had good house mates and a descent rent. Still, 10 kilometers one-way was a bit too far for cycling to work everyday (especially in London traffic) and pretty exhausting... Also, the neighborhood was okay, but nothing really special. That's why I applied to work as a vice-warden at UCL, and also--and more importantly--because if you are accepted you don't have to pay rent. That obviously means that you can save quite a bit of money in a city where accommodation is the main expense each month. The application procedure was a bit of work, but not too much. I had to hand in a personal statement, after that I got called to an interview where they asked me various scenario questions, and that's it!

If you are not from the UK you might not really know what a accommodation vice-warden is, so let me explain. A vice-warden is a graduate student who lives in a student hall (there are around ten at UCL) and takes care of any issues that could occur in the evenings and weekends when the reception is closed. These issues could be anything from someone losing their keys, to a flooding in a bathroom, to breaking up a party because of noise complaints. More experienced vice-wardens have told me some really crazy stories, and some funny events have happened also while I have been on duty. But I will not cover that here...

In the hall where I work in Camden Town (ten minutes from UCL by bicycle) there are around 900 students, mostly undergraduates (who are usually younger than 20), and seven vice-wardens. This means that we, on average, work one shift a week. It is pretty lively at times because, well, there are young people living here, who just moved away from home, and who would like to enjoy themselves. But most of them are really nice and don't have any problems if you tell them to quiet down when it is getting closer to midnight. Overall, work as a vice-warden can be a little stressful at times (I once had three fire alarms throughout one night, where we each time had to evacuate 300 people and also deal with the fire brigade...),  but the pros definitely outweighs the cons: free accommodation, free food and close to university!

All my belongings gathered at the entrance of Max Rayne house: my new home. I was lucky that my former house mate Rob could drive me over to my new place in his car... Moving places for the fourth time this year! 

The reception guys had put my room keys in this envelope. A nice welcome. 

A panoramic of my little room. Maybe it is not much, but it has everything that I need :)

The view of North London from my room in Camden Town. Not only Crosby Lake has nice sunsets. 

Besides the free rent, the biggest plus of being a vice-warden definitely is the free food. I feel a bit spoiled at times...
As part of our vice-warden training we did a course in first aid.
Besides university and warden work what else has happened since my last blog post? Hmm, well one tragic event was definitely Brexit... Among the people I know and work with there were only sad faces the day the result was announced. Personally I think it is a horrible decision and let's see what will happen here in the UK over the coming years (and then Trump on top of that, ay ay ay...).

Also, I got my second journal paper published. The title is "ConoSurf: Open‐source 3D scanning system based on a conoscopic holography device for acquiring surgical surfaces", which was published in The International Journal of Medical Robotics and Computer Assisted Surgery. Here is a link to the project website if you would like to have a closer look. I did the work together with colleagues from Madrid, so it has taken quite a while to finally get the work published. Once we knew it got published however, it felt really great and it is nice to be able to put full focus on the projects I am working on currently, here in London.

The progress of my climbing 'career' has unfortunately halted, because I have an injury in my elbow ( I think it is tendenitis, which is an inflammation of a tendon). It is really quite frustrating because climbing is something I need, to take my mind of work, and is also a social part of my life. I have joined two climbing clubs, the university one and a local northern London club. Before my injury I went on trips to Wales and the south-coast of England. Especially Pembroke and Snowdonia in Wales were amazing! Anyway, hopefully my injury will heal as soon as possible so I can get back into it.

Climbing trip to Snowdonia National Park in Wales.

Another climbing trip to Pembrokeshire in Wales. 
Finally, two days from now I am flying to California to spend a month with my dear Lina. Long-distance relationships are tough (really tough sometimes) and I can't wait to see her again. Just a month before I decided to buy the plane tickets, Norwegian airlines started flying to Oakland from London Gatwick, which means I found a cheap, direct flight! We don't have any grand plans for what to do, but I would like to spend some time on the beach (which will be a bit cold), eat some yummy food and just be... It will be a bit sad not being able to spend time with family and friends in Sweden for Christmas of course, but hopefully I can fly to Sweden early next year instead.

Me just getting started on a 6B climb in Portland. This photo is from my first trip with the UCL climbing club in October.

My friend Alex came and stayed with me for a few days. Here we are in Greenwich Park, home of the Prime Meridian, which is the reference point for Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). In the background you can see Canary Wharf, one of the United Kingdom's two main financial centers.

Night out in Camden Town last weekend. A mix of people consisting of friends from uni, warden buddies and flatmates. Living in London I have developed quite the appetite for cask ale.
With this little update I would like to wish you an early Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! In 2017 (!), when I have returned from my trip to Arcata, I will try to write a summary about what we ended up doing.

Bye for now!

A selfie taken during a hiking trip Lina and I did in the Trinity Alps in 2013. This was my first time exploring Humboldt County in Northern California. It is a beautiful place...

2016-06-13

Three weeks in a van.

 I just came back to London again after spending close to three weeks travelling with this fellow (Rob) in his campervan, through France.
The first few days we spent in, and around, a picturesque village (Orpierre) in Southern France. The village is surrounded by large cliffs and is therefore a rock climbing Mecca.
Was hard to keep our feet dry at times :)
Final pitch of the 150 meter multi-pitch route Brazil (5+) in Orpierre.
There were also some impressive overhangs for the rainy days.
After Orpierre, we drove for a couple of hours to Chamonix in the French Alps.
There were impressive glaciers (here Mer de Glace) and majestic peaks. As the lifts hadn't opened yet for the summer, the valley was still quiet and not too crowded.
For our first alpine route (usually long climbs on a mix of rock and snow) we took one of the few lifts that were open to the top of Aiguille du Midi (3842 m).
Our fellow passengers up to the top of Aiguille du Midi were a mix of tourists and mountaineers. As the tourists headed for the gift shop and the look out points, Rob and I exited the lift station through a narrow ice tunnel, put on out crampons, tied in and then exited out on a narrow ridge (the one you can see in the above photo) through a small gate.
In alpinism, route finding is one of  the most essential skills. Whiteouts are not uncommon (when visibility and contrast are severely reduced by snow) and walking in the wrong direction can have very serious consequences (for example stepping over a vertical cliff with a 500 meter drop...).
As we were travelling on a glacier we had to be tied together by a rope. This way, if one of us would falls down a snow covered crevasse (a very deep open crack), the other person could perform a crevasse rescue.
Up the peak on the left was where we were heading. The climb was called Pointe Lachenal Traverseé and had a fairly easy rating of AD. Still, falling off was not an option. From the surrounding taller peaks we at times heard load roars as avalanches were crushing down the slopes.
As Rob had to leave for a few days I got the chance to go on a solo, three day hike on the Tour du Mont Blanc (one of the most popular long-distance walks in Europe). It was stunningly beautiful, taking me up and down one mountain after the other. As the summer season hadn't started yet, I was all alone on my hike and couldn't had had a better way of recharging my batteries after an intense first year of my PhD in London.
I managed to find some great camp spots just at the border of the snow line. The night time temperature was just around zero; therefore, not to cold.
The tent that Rob lent me and the gear I brought along. Walking sticks were essential for carrying a heavy pack and for keeping my balance on the steep downhill sections of the trail.
Marmots (large squirrel like animals) at times popped up their heads through the snow.
Mountain goats are impressive climbers, effortlessly traversing steep rock.
For our next alpine route we hiked up to the Glacier du Trient where we spent two nights (~2800 m). The peak we had in mind was Aigiulle du Tour (3540 m) via the route Table de Roc (PD). Table de Roc means table of rock and you can (quite) clearly see this table in the above photo. The table was a difficult section of the route and rather exciting...
Our tent spot, at top of the glacier. It took a while for us to to dig it out but then provided us with comfort throughout windy nights with negative temperatures.
Rob and I inside our tiny tent. We spent a substantial amount of time in here and sometimes it was rather difficult to come up with things to do (I think Rob read the one paragraph route description at least a hundred times...).
The glacier in the background and as you can see, the weather wasn't very good. Unfortunately, the closer we got to the summit the more worse it got...
We had to be careful as it was the early summer season, avalanches and rock slides were common.
Amazing photo (I think) of Rob descending the route after we made it to the summit. No summit photo unfortunately as we had near whiteout conditions up there and neither of us were particularly keen on capturing the "Kodak moment".
Rob and I on our way down from the glacier. When the skies were clear the views were breathtaking! In the background, on the right, you can see Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Western Europe (4810 m).

2016-04-17

Life in London

I have lived here in the UK for a little over six months. Over the course of these six months I have learnt the adventure of daily London bicycle commutes (I cycle around 20 km a day here, and traffic is intense...), learnt the difficulties in finding reasonable housing -- which is affordable (and in the end, I think I was pretty lucky), clocked more hours at work/university than I have ever done before (which gives me a strange mix  of satisfaction and happiness, stress and, sometimes, despair...), and also seen a few beautiful places (some photos at the bottom of this post), which for me is an occasional necessity to clear my head after too many hours in front of the computer screen. Now, on to the housing situation.

During my first three months in London I moved three times. My living standards subsequently went from horrible, to bad, to currently, actually pretty descent. As I arrived London in September last year I had booked a couple of nights at a hotel with the plan of quickly finding a place to live (which turned out to be quite stressful). I browsed the Internet for spare rooms, went to see a few places and then, without to much thought, accepted a room in Willesden Junction in West London. As the days past and I settled into my new accommodation, I realized that my housing situation was far from ideal. Why? Well to name a few: the landlady was a hoarder collecting trash nightly and stashing it in her house and backyard; there was no heating and on top of that there was no hot water, which lead to me being constantly cold; the landlady was very particular of what us tenants were allowed to do and not, and she kept putting up notes (all over the place) and also pushing these notes underneath my door. Actually, of all the places I have lived (India, Spain, Canada, etc.), I would rank this place a solid number one for being the worst. The landlady eventually realized my discontent and allowed me to leave without losing my deposit; hence, I went back to browsing the web...

My next room, in Tottenham (a not so glorious part of London where the 2011 England riots began) was warm and cosy, but lacked a window, which made it resemble a prison cell. Additionally, the room also had a quite strange odour to it. On top of that was the lady living in the house who was obsessed with cleaning. I remember in particular one morning where my morning breakfast collided with her morning vacuumimg. As I stood by the stove making my oatmeal, she was sitting by the kitchen table, vacuum cleaner in her hand -- staring -- just waiting for me to finish so she could get on with her daily routine. Although cheap, I was not very keen on staying in this place due to the above circumstances and was lucky to be able to move in with my climbing partner at the time. He lived with a few mates in a house in Wood Green in North East London, and Wood Green is what I now call home. My room is a nice double sized one, I have room for my precious bicycle, a desk and some possessions I have brought along. My house mates are three cool guys, all from England, two of them born and raised in North London. Occasionally, I have difficulties understanding one of the guys as his accent is 'pretty' thick. But, I am making my best to pick up as much cockney lingo as I possibly can :) Sadly, my climbing partner friend soon leaves for a one year climbing road-trip, Luckily though, it gives me an opportunity to meet up with him in random places throughout Europe, and I have already bought a plane ticket to the Alps where we will be doing a few weeks of mountaineering in June!

I have now covered my living situation. Next, I would like to write a little bit about what I spend most of my time doing here in London, which is a Ph.D. within medical imaging at UCL. Doing a Ph.D. means that you spend an insane amount of time on a very narrow subject, for very little money, often with not much help, which in the end, hopefully, leads to a tiny contribution to the collective knowledge of the world (great explanation). The overall aim of my Ph.D. is to improve detectability of abnormalities in images of the brain. More specifically, brain magnetic resonance imaging; and even more specifically, by improving the resolution of these images by solving something called and inverse problem.  Solving an inverse problem involves estimating a quantity from incomplete measurements. In the context of what I am working on, these incomplete measurements are low resolution images, and the quantity I would like to estimate, a high resolution image:


I decided to do a Ph.D. because I like the freedom (under responsibility) it brings, the fact that I literally learn new things every single day, and the opportunities of work anywhere in the world the degree brings (if completed...). But, it wasn't a decision I made overnight and I think a good amount of both care and thought should go into it. Indeed, four years is a long time!

The Lake District. A frozen lake in the Alps? No, this photo is actually from England! The Lake District to be more precise. I went there for winter climbing, and the conditions were amazing.
Isle of Portland. From winter climbing in the previous photo, to sea cliff climbing on the south coast of England. Portland, a small island 2-3 hours south of London.
The Peak District. The peak district is, just as the lake district, an English national park. More climbing (obviously), this time on gritstone. Apparently termed by British climbers as "God's own rock".
Thames, London. The river Thames is the longest river in the UK and passes through the capital. Occasionally it floods, in this photo I walked past it a few days after a 'supermoon', which might have lead to it being flooded.