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Hunter Hale :: Blog

August 14, 2011

Tuesday was my last day in Roanna and on Thursday morning at 6:00AM I boarded a plane to take me back to the states. I thought I would take a moment and reflect on my time in France. (Thanks to the other PIRE participant for inspiring this blog format)

Things that surprised me:

When people arrive at work everybody shakes hands (men) or does the check kissing thing (women)

Daylight from 6AM to 10PM (gotta love mountains at northern latitudes)

Everybody has a dog

How many bakeries there are in a town of 20k

The density of the town

The fact all the stores close at 7:00pm and are closed Sundays

How nice everyone was

How easy it was to get by without any French

The lack of any AC

How many smokers there are over here


Things I am going to miss:

All the wonderful bakeries

The food specifically the chocolate and bread

 The ability to walk everywhere


Things I left behind:

A wonderful community at Gamr7

A quant little apartment

1 well used oscillating fan

About 50 pounds I walked off

Things I am taking with me:

A wonderful set of new experiences

A confidence I can go anywhere and do anything

A new set of professional contacts

4 pounds of chocolate in my luggage



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August 08, 2011

Well my time in France is rapidly drawing to a close. I have made arrangements with my landlord to move out of my apartment at 2:00PM on Wednesday (I hope - the woman who used to manage things and spoke some English went on vacation and has been replaced by one with no English).  Also I have picked a good time to get out of France as the whole country is in the process of shutting down for "vacation".  Apparently everyone takes 2/3 weeks of August off and business just close up.  Currently 4 of the 5 bakeries near me are closed down and several of the restaurants I like have also closed up shop. I am told that pretty soon just the high rent district shops and the supermarkets will be open and that even those will be on reduced hours. Also last week my advisor and I introduced our host site to tex-mex cooking, which is apparently really rare here. They liked it though it wasn't 100% authentic as we couldn't find some of the spices.  Apparently in France there are only two types of peppers green and red.  They don't even have words in the language for other types strangely enough. That is one thing I am looking forward to when I get home the food is kind of bland here.

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August 01, 2011

I can't believe that I only have a few more days left in France.  It feels like just yesterday that I flew in and only recently do I feel that I have become well adapted. I have really enjoyed my time over here and I know that I am going to miss several things a lot (Boulangeries
in particular will be greatly missed), but I am starting to get a bit homesick.
I would certainly come back to France if I had the opportunity in the future.

In the office right now it’s a bit of a race to see how many of the papers and other work I have been doing over the summer I can get out the door before I return to the states.  Currently, my first journal article is receiving the finishing touches and should be submitted before I go home for dinner.  That just leaves 2 more papers in the outgoing pile and another one of them is close to the point of submission.

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July 25, 2011

is a nice plate of spicy tex-mex food. After looking through three countries and a quick web search I have determined that it is almost impossible to find Mexican food in Europe. Aside from the lack of salsa and queso things have been going well in Roanne.  The climate for the past couple of weeks has been wonderful barely breaking out of the low 80's which given the temperatures at home I am very much glad to be here.  Work is ongoing with GamR7 but it looks like I should accomplish most of what I came out here to do.  Aside from that my apartment complex has decided to pull a fast one with their laundry room. When I moved in and until last Tuesday there were four washer/dryers that we could use free of charge as residents.  They just replaced them with 2 paid systems instead.  So now we have longer lines and a additional 5-10 euro a week cost associated with living there.  I am kinda glad I only have another 2 weeks or so left. Also I am starting to get a little homesick. 

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July 17, 2011

So as I mentioned in my last post I took advantage of the French National Holliday of Bastille Day and my host sites tendency to cluster everyone’s vacation to Bastille day in order to close for a week (and the cheap in Europe airfares) to do some traveling and paper writing.  The writing went well and I have a pair of papers ready for final review and submission.  The traveling went even better.  Last weekend I was in London which might pass New York as my favorite city over all.  Then this weekend I was in Rome which while interesting I didn't enjoy as much as London.  So quick impressions for both cities and a bit of advice for anyone else who ends up in either location:

 London -  So first off London is pricy, but worth it.  Just being in London costs a lot of money.  My hotel was out towards Heathrow airport and I had the choice of either taking the metro in (9 pounds sterling) or the express train (30 pounds sterling plus you need a metro card to move in the city) for me the express train made more sense due to time limitations (1 hour to 1.5 hour metro rides vs 15 minute trains). Moving around the city is made very easy by the metro but again it costs a decent amount (almost 15$).  Food and other random sundries are also some of the highest I have seen (more than Rome, New York, Lyon). Also there will be a 20% vat tax applied to everything you buy that isn't usually included in the listed price so be ready for that.  Now the good news almost all of the attractions are free and there are some amazing things to see in London.  My three favorites would have to be the British Museum (Rossetta Stone, Egyptian Obelisks and Mummies, Eglin Marbles, and pretty much any other historical treasure from any areas dominated by the British at any point in the last 500 years) the British Library (First editions of about every famous books in the world - Guttenberg Bibles, King James Bibles, the Magna Carta, Mozart and Beethoven handwritten pieces, Shakespeare’s First Folios, and original manuscripts of all the other giants of British Lit), and finally I really enjoyed the British Science Museum (history of sailing ships, huge exhibit on the industrial revolution including rebuild replicas of entire mill works, and some good installation art pieces). Aside from that I would also rate the Tower of London (paid) and London Dungeon (also paid) very highly and then list off the other required sights in London (Buckingham Palace, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, ect).  On piece of advice don't buy tickets to anything that requires tickets at that place (so don't get tower of London tickets at the tower) instead there will be these newsstands that sell tickets that are "priority" (sometimes it helps sometimes it doesn't) and actually cheaper than the ones at the locations.  These newsstands have no line unlike the actual attraction.

Rome - I was a little less impressed by there were some definite must see things in Rome but it wasn't as interesting as London.  I will say the food in Rome was pretty amazing.  Its interesting in France I have trouble finding French restaurants (apparently people here want to eat things different than they do at home) however Rome is plastered with great Italian eateries. The overall cost of living in Rome appears to be much lower than London (no VAT tax yah) but all of the attractions in Rome with one or two exceptions charge admissions so it kinda evens out. One thing from my experience with Rome is that it is hot and I mean blistering drain the life out of you hot.  As a rule I could only do one or two things a day in Rome before I had to retreat to the hotel and Air Conditioning.  A couple pieces of advice for someone visiting Rome. First, there are fountains everyone on the streets these having drinkable and quite tasty water (unless otherwise marked accessible fountains are portable) use them.  Secondly, I did a Segway tour of Rome and I felt it was worth every penny I paid for it.  We covered 26km in four hours which hit every major historical area and all of the key ruins. I would highly recommend this for visitors as I don't want to think about walking 26km in that kind of heat.  Finally, a lot of people are giving bad advice about how to best visit the Vatican/ 16th Chapel.  Most people will tell you to get there early but that is when the line is the worst.  Instead, go by around 2/3pm and there will be almost no waiting.

Aside from that the Ipad provided very nice for editing and marking up papers in the evenings and on flights and I just need to integrate these corrections to my latex documents now that I am back on my laptop. (P.S. if your not using Latex for academic publications you should be :)


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July 10, 2011

This will have to be a short blog post as I am on very flackey internet at the moment.  The last week was highly productive but at the same time somewhat boring. I am fast on the track of finsihing off my major production targets for the summer and I am currently working on producing not one but two papers.  I will be traveling some in the upcoming week since it is Bastille Day, but bringing my laptop along for paper editing. More details on where I am visting will be forthcoming

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July 03, 2011

So this last week I attended the Foundations of Digital Games Conference in Bordeaux France. PIRE was kind enough to provide some travel support since it is a local conference to my host site and since it was a great opportunity to network with international research labs in my area.

Monday -- Monday was travel to Bordeaux from Roanne which on map looks like a reasonably short drive but in actuality turns out to be a bit longer than it looks.  The roads went though some amazingly nice looking middle of nowhere French country side and since they are toll roads were in pretty good condition.  The city of Bordeaux is an interesting study in contrasts.  Some of the city is this amazing white/eggshell color construction with wonderful renaissance details and real artistic flair.  However, other sections of the city are black and dingy though they still have that some underlying architecture.  I was struck by the contrast when entering the city and later discovered that the black stone work is caused by centuries of pollution building up and that the city has for the past few years been doing a washing and cleaning program which explains the nicer looking buildings.

Tuesday -- The conference sorta started today as the procedural content in games and other workshops kicked off and most of the eventual conference attendees were here.  I attend the procedural content workshop and saw some interesting things.  My host site presented their work in city generation.  I saw the "Speed Rock" program which promises to do for rock generation what SpeedTree did for vegetation though I think it could probably have used a little more time in the oven.  The idea and implementation seem sound, but the output quality needs more work. Also there was a somewhat interesting panel discussion regarding the future of using procedural content in games.

Wednesday -- The first real day of the conference opened with a keynote from the CEO of Mimesis Republic discussing how they introduced embodied player avatars into social gaming situations, or at least that was what was supposed to happen.  Instead, the keynote speakers train was delayed so we started off with sessions on Serious Games and Design instead and heard the keynote second.  The Design section was a bit hit and miss with talks on Minimalist game design (hit) and Guidelines for Personalizing the Player Experience in Computer Role-Playing Games (definite miss - I am not sure what possessed the reviewers to score highly a paper presenting some guidelines a guy who admits to not playing these types of games made up with no research or statistical backup but they did. The lunch break ran long (they usually do in France) and we returned to a panel discussion looking at whether technology or design should drive game development (take away - nobody could agree as expected). Finally, the day closed with each of the poster presenters quickly giving a 1 minute talk about their work to lure people into seeing the posters later that night and the next day.

Thursday - Was a bit of more of the same with some hit and miss sessions like the game studies talks (hit) and the Able Gamers (accessibility accommodations on games and something of a miss). But Thursday evening the FDG formal or not formal banquet was held.  Surprisingly, we were hosted in Hotel D'eville which is the city hall. The food at the banquet (4 course meal with appetizers at the garden mixer beforehand) was probably the best I have yet to have in France.  During the banquet I had a great chance to network with folks from both the universities of the Netherlands in attendance who are doing similar research to mine as well as the academic liason folks from Microsoft and a gentleman from AT&T who is working to produce mobile augmented reality games that interact in the real world.  In particular, the work done by AT&T has produced a version of laser tag played with just iphones that works in any environment which I found cool.

Friday - Started off kind of slow (there were some great wines at the banquet as well as food) but mainly centered around the keynote speech presented by the folks from Microsoft discussing how to use and integrate the Kinect into a game development or research program. After the conference ended on Friday I went to the west coast of France since it was convenient and I wanted to see the other side of the Atlantic Ocean for once.  I managed to both get my feet wet and climb the tallest sand dune in Europe.  

Saturday - was another travel day as I left Bordeaux and returned to Roanne.  Instead of taking the toll routes in order to save money and see more of the country we took the scenic route back which consisted of lots of little towns and vineyards along with several dairy fields.  Also along the way we stopped to visit Viche France which at one point was the capital of France (1940 - 1944 not the happiest time for the French) 

So thats the end of live blog burst transmission (yes I know using a burst transmission of what is supposed to be a live blog defeats the point but the internet at the conference was almost non-existent)


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June 26, 2011

So nothing of note really happened this week. I interacted some with the local stores (my mouse died and had to be replaced).  I did follow up on a suggestion from one of my coworkers (thanks David) to check out the "Pyramide Des Tropiques 10" (Pyramid from here on) from Francois Pralus Chocolates which I have no regrets on.  So the Pyramid is  a 10 pack of single source high coco dark chocolate from locations around the world.  So the trick with single source chocolate is that it has a unique flavor and aroma that is heavily influnced by where it is grown at.  In a way it is a lot like the other famous product of france - wine.  In fact, many of the terms and flavors you might use to describe a good wine have been shameless stolen to apply to chocolate as well.  Now you might be wondering why you don't notice this variation in flavors when you have a Hersey bar or some other chocolate that is due to Hersey and most other manufactures mixing chocolate together from all over the world in order to produce a unique but consistent flavor. Without trying to turn this research blog into to much of a foodie blog instead I will state that my current favorite chocolate source is the one from Trinidad with "perisistent aroma, spices, grilled smoked dried herbs and mild tobaco" according to the back of the box (I would describe it more as spices and smoke personally).  Next week should be more interesting as I will be spending it in Bordoux at the Foundations of Digital Games Conference.

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June 19, 2011

So this was another short week as monday was a yet another national holiday.  However things are progressing smoothly at Gamr7 and I have really settled in to work.  The real highlight of this week was an invited talk I gave along with my advisor at Lyon University 1.  That is the hard science computer, enginering and math university in the city of Lyon.  Apparently rather than naming the invididual schools they just atttach a number to them depending on what they specialize in. 

I spent 2 days in Lyon for my talk talk so I had time to see a bit of the city (pictures and details coming in later post) though I think the ride into and out of the city on the train might have been the best part. The views of the French countryside were great.  I will note that the actual train system in France at least isn't as economical as a lot of folks told me it would be.  It turns out that ticket prices are actually a bit on the high side and if you have mulitple people going somewhere it is often better to split the cost of renting a car to drive.

While in Lyon I had a chance to see the Gamagora game program showcase where the students of Lyon Univeristy 2 (the art and design university) presented games that they had been working on for the past 2 semesters.  I have to say they have some high quality stuff.  In particular I really love the game "Prison of Will" where you control a character who is trapped in a story book and has to escape by cutting holes in pages and jumping between sections of the book (prisonofwill.blogspot.com).  Also on a strange coincidence note one of the students I met at gamagora randomly showed up at Gamr7 on friday to start an internship.

My talk went over well I think the room we presented in was completly packed with people and nobody left early or threw anything at me while I was speaking so I will take those as good signs. Actually the people the people there were very interested the exploration of the space of academic games that my home research lab has been doing for the past several years. 

Well its late and I don't have the gadget that will let me upload the pictures I took in Lyon handy so I will post them tommorrow when I get into work and can steal a bluetooth dongle. 

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June 12, 2011

 So week 2 turned out to be our first full week at GamR7 due to the wonderful collection of French holiday (With another one falling on Monday of week 3). Last weekend I had the chance to explore some of the French countryside along with the city of Lyon.  The landscape here reminds me a lot of the mountains of Western North Carolina, I hadn't realized how high up Roane actually is in comparison to Lyon since I took the train in and was something of a zombie for the ride. The architecture on the other hand is totally different featuring a lot of tile roofs rather than shingles. One other interesting thing I have noticed is that the grocery stores are for the most part really different from home.  They are a lot simpler in terms of design and layout and pretty much are just shelf’s with food on them.  They don't have the endcaps or in isle displays that you would see in the states, and the food isn't displayed to its best possible manner it's just draped along the shelfs. Overall I do like the less crowded style, but it does make the stores seem sparse. 

On the trip to Lyon I saw my first roman ruin an old aqueduct running through the hills above a town along with some really old and quant little villages.  The city of Lyon is huge as expect and really does look quite wonder.  The city itself is build at the conflux of two rivers and a large portion of the down town is on the peninsula between the rivers.  Also I discovered that one of my favorite foods (pistachios) are considered a local treat and are used in many dishes in both Roane and Lyon (Pistachio Ice cream with whole nuts on top -- drool). Speaking of food I also found an interesting local dish at the sandwich shop a baguette with pickles, ham, and butter.  This has a unique flavor.  Finally, I discovered the apex of French cooking the "pain de chocolate" or the chocolate filled croissant.

I have learned a quick lesion that might help future travelers to France.  They generally don't have air conditioning here so you have to leave your windows open all the time.  They also don't have screens here (at least I haven't seen any) so various bugs rapidly enter your apartment.  Some of those bugs are mosquitoes which then proceed to bite the snot of you during the night.

 Finally, I managed to start the taking  some pictures (I am having trouble dumping them off my cell phone) but here is one of me in my natural habitat hunched over my computer at work.


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