Right from the time we landed at the airport in Honolulu on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, and drove to our hotel, the Outrigger Reef Towers in Waikiki, it was obvious that this trip to the Pacific Symposium on Biocomputing 2000 was going to much different from the last one, which was held on the Big Island of Hawaii.
The best part of the trip was heading out to Dillingham Airfield on the North Shore for a glider ride on the seventh with Soar Hawaii Sailplane Rides. I had a choice between skydiving (which I had just done recently) and gliding, and I made the right decision. The tow plane dropped us off at 5000 feet and we began climing all the way to 10,000 feet, at times climbing over 800 feet per minute. It amazed me how one can fly without any mechanical power, catching the lift in winds which are like waves following a path, going up (lift) or down (sink). It was also amazing how my instructor Elmer had such a Zen-like feel for where to catch the lift (usually on the right side of the wave) and how to get past a sink (go as fast as you can).
I tried manipulating the plane, but I was nowhere as attuned to the sensitivity of the controls like my instructor was. The feeling of soaring on air without engines is simply indescribable, but I'm going to try anyway: It's incredibly quiet and there's a serene and peaceful feeling permeating the atmosphere. The winds make it possible to stay up indefinitely and I could've stayed there all day. We ended the amazing flight by doing a bunch of aerobatics, including a few loops, splits, and the victory roll. The landing was impeccable. I was completely blown away by the experience which definitely safer than skydiving or even flying in a real plane (since there are few moving parts)! I highly recommend it.
The rest of the trip was fun as well. The primary difference between Oahu/Waikiki and the Big Island was in the presence of a large number of people and large number of buildings. The first evening, we went to a Chinese Resutarant, the House of Hong, on Lewers Street and registered for the conference. The next morning, we took a walk along the beach, rented a cool convertible, and drove along the north side of the Island, stopping to relax on the beach and enjoy a quick dip in the water right after Sunset beach.
The next day, with the top down, I drove along the Southern border to Ka'ena Point, which had one of the more spectacular beaches as well as views in Oahu. I walked a bit along the trail to the Ka'ena Point lighthouse, returned back, and gave my three-hour talk on Protein structure prediction at the conference. We watched Eyes Wide Shut from the hotel room. The next day, I gave a second talk and spent the entire day listening to talks. We watched Chill Factor.
With my talks done, both of which were well-recieved, I decided to go snorkelling in Hanauma Bay on Thursday. it was amazing! Even though the bay was somewhat crowded, the number and variety of fish I witnessed were amazing:
That evening, after presenting a poster at the poster session, we went to see Galaxy Quest with a couple of people from the conference.
On the last day before we left, I headed out to Makapu'u Point Lighthouse which was an interesting hike (a total of about five miles). The best part of this hike was taking a diversion to climb down a fairly treacherous slope to a ledge right over the ocean created by vocanic lava flow. The water would come crashing on the ledge and create huge waves, as well as go through funnels and erupt spontaneously. It was simultaneously exciting and relaxing watching nature's power at its most awesome. The views were spectacular, as were the constant noises of the water hitting the rock and the blowhole erupting, complemented beautifully by the mountains around me, the rainbow formed by the droplets of water rising into the air, and the sea life that gathered in the tide pools on the ledge.
I ended the day by hiking up to the Diamond Head Crater summit, which offered some spectacular vistas of the entire South Oahu region, from the ocean to downtown Honolulu. I got wet in the tropical rain, which is something I hadn't done in years and was extremely refreshing, and walked down from the summit of the crater accompanied by a huge rainbow over downtown Honolulu.
Even though I had incredible adventures and a lot of fun, for a variety of reasons I won't get into, there were parts of this trip where I was melancholic (this trip marked an end to an "unique" relationship with a person who meant a lot to me). Sitting on the volcanic ledge with the water crashing around me, I couldn't help but realise that life and the world we live in is magnificient. While I wished she were there with me while I experienced the amazing wonders, I also realise what makes life beautiful is the ups and downs, and given that the rest of my life is in a perfect equilibrium, whatever experiences I have that make me feel alive also makes me incredibly happy.
That seems like a somewhat of a depressing note to end on, but things only got better. After sleeping in my own bed for one night and doing laundry, I headed off to San Diego for the Quantitative Challenges in the Post-Genomic Era Symposium at the Wyndham Emerald Plaza Hotel in San Diego, California. This was the first conference I was going to in a long time where I didn't have to do anything---even the poster I presented was the one that was done for the conference above. Thus I was in an extremely relaxed mood.
As soon as I walked into the reception, I met a whole bunch of people I hadn't seen in a year, from the last similar conference I went to. It was great meeting them all and bunch of us went out to dinner for the evening to Sadaf for dinner on the 9th in the Gas Lamp District. Other cool places I went out to eat included Greek Town for lunch on the 10th, Rainwater's for dinner on the 12th (with incredibly tasty hors d'oeuvres), Star of India for dinner on the 15th.
For the first time, I was at a conference that excited me incredibly and so unlike my usual routine where I would skip a fair number of talks and go off adventuring, I attended most of the talks here. The science was generally about protein structure and function, the area of my research, and some of the top people in the field were present, which led to some extremely stimulating discussions. I came away from the conference with a huge number of ideas I can't wait to implement (right after I finish this missive!).
One of the more intense days for me was Saturday the 15th, where I decided to go hiking to Cabrillo National Monument. I ran into my former mentor John Moult there and we got to spend some quality time together. We hiked down the bayside trail, which was interesting for the views of San Diego it presented, but the hike down to the tide pools on the ocean side was far more exciting and fun. The two hikes were probably in the order of five-six miles. Besides seeing some cool lifeforms in the tide pools (hermit crabs and urchins and the like), we also witnessed some interesting effects of water and wind erosion which made for a distinctive landscape. After the hike and the symposium dinner, we went to Fields, an Irish pub, a place we had already frequented twice, and then around 1a in the morning, we drove to Coronado Beach on Coronado Island and had a late snack at 4a in the morning at the local Denny's.
Another fun day was on Friday, where we had an excursion out to Balboa Park. We went to the Science Museum where we saw the IMAX movie Africa's Elephant Kingdom, the Natural History Museum, the Museum of Art, and a bit of the Aerospace Museum. We also walked through the Botanical Garden, which is one of the largest wood lath structures in the world, where we saw some beautiful flowers:
One of the cooler things I did was hang out with Michelle and Michael Robertson at mp3.com on the 13th where they introduced me to this cool program called Beam It which is going to cause quite a stir in the online music world. Oh, and as with the last such conference in Sante Fe, we ended up spending a fair amount of time in the hotel hot tub.
I returned on Sunday the 16th, exhausted and exhilarated. As I say above this was an extremely exciting conference for me, both in terms of science and the adventuring, and that is a rarity. A great two weeks and a great way to begin the new year!