Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Temples of Malta

The temples of Malta are a source of a rich culture for both the island and the people. I was lucky enough to be able to visit one of the temples found on the island. The one I visited was called Ħaġar Qim. This temples origin dates back to approximately 3600 B.C. These are some of the earliest known buildings still standing in the present day. 

I wanted to further understand what the temples on the island meant to the people who lived there so I set out to find someone to interview about. I had a chance to interview a Maltese woman about what the temples had meant to her.

She said that she had visited a few of the temples on the island but she never went to revisit them and that people generally don't. However she did say that she grew up learning about them in school. 

One comment that stood out to me was that she believed that their culture wouldn't be what it is today if it wasn't for all the people that came before, including the ones that created the temples. 

Overall, it appears that although most Maltese citizens don't visit the temples, they still have an appreciation for the history behind them and how it has effected their present day culture.  

Cultural Influence from the Knights of St John

The Knights of St John may have only occupied the island from 1530-1798, but they left a clear mark on the Maltese landscape and cultural heritage. Dr. Simon Mercieca, a historian and sociologist at the University of Malta, outlined some of the ways the legacy of the Knights continues to shape Malta today.

Many of the strongest effects he described are clear even after a short time on the island. Their flag, the white cross on a red background, can be seen on everything from churches to souvenirs. After Maltese and English, the third most-widely spoken language is Italian. Many of the holidays commemorate Catholic saints.

I was surprised to learn that the Maltese people feel a much stronger connection to the man-made environment—the churches, forts, harbors, etc.—than to the natural environment. According to Dr. Mercieca, this too can be attributed to the Knights.

Malta has been occupied by external powers for most of its history. Because of this, the land was often owned by the foreigners, but the city, where many Maltese lived was not. Though the Knights were born in other areas of Europe, they often came to Malta as children. Once here, they made an effort to integrate into the island culture, for example by learning the Maltese language. In turn, the Maltese people adopted parts of their culture including the architecture. Even today, people make a strong effort to preserve buildings from the time of the Knights and emulate their style in new construction projects and works of art.

Overall, I am really glad I was able to gain an academic's perspective on the culture we had the opportunity to experience while in Malta.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

ICEX Malta 2018 - A Recap

Being in Malta through ICEX was an absolutely incredible opportunity and experience on several levels.  Not only did we finish our time there with great data and progress on our research, we were able to witness and learn from the exquisitely wonderful place and culture that is Malta.  Nearly every day, the students in the group would have some sort of discussion along the lines of "Wow, it is still completely unbelievable that this is our actual job."  Taking coding breaks from photogrammetry and motion planning to snorkel at coral beaches and making research decisions while bobbing around in a diving boat on the blue waters of the Mediterranean are undoubtedly experiences that very few other people will ever be lucky enough to have -- and those were just on the working days.  On the vacation days we ferried between islands, hiked through the stunning countryside, and visited Neolithic temples and Medieval castles.  Through it all we built great new friendships with our peers within and across school boundaries and got to spend time with experts in academic fields ranging from our own to others like history and technical diving that make up the actual motivation for our work.  The massive amount of learning we did could have only been done in Malta, and nowhere else could we possibly have enjoyed ourselves as much as we did. 

Even though our time in Malta has come to an end, our work for ICEX is far from over.  Now there are plots to generate, interview blog posts to finally complete, reconstructions to perfect, and papers to write.  There are many posts still to come on this blog, but now that the most incredible part of our ICEX journey is over, we wanted to thank Chris, Zoe, and the NSF for making this whole thing possible. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

putting pieces together

Reflecting on visiting Malta 7 times over the last 8 years, I feel as if I am just now being able to put some of the pieces of the history of this complex country together.  Malta is a cross roads and even as I have parroted those words to students when describing our project, this year more then before I feel I am able to see some of the history of the intersections crossing East and West over this strategically located island with deep large harbors.

When we first started coming to Malta, I will admit to being mostly drawn to trying to understand their role in WW2, as trying to understand this global conflict always resonated with my desire to try to understand current world oscillations.  And Malta's role was so key and dynamic that this recent history always loomed large in my mind when thinking of Malta and its history.  This year, I feel like I have been able to see further back.  In part due to some of the great lectures organized by our local contact, Dr. Timmy Gambin and in part due to the inclusion of the brilliant Dr. Ambereen Dadabhoy, whose academic focus on the Mediterranean in the 1600s yet articulate vision of the present has helped some of the further past come more clearly into view as relevant and worth understanding.

In terms of lectures, for example, the excellent and entertaining presentation about Maltese Corsairs by Liam Gauci brought to life the legal pirating conducted in the 1600s by Maltese against the Ottoman Turks.  The tit for tat robbery and slave taking between the Maltese and Ottoman Turk corsairs all legal and often in the name of religion was somehow shocking to my modern sense of fairness.  And then last night, we heard another great lecture from Dr. Mark Aloisio, Senior Lecturer at the University of Malta, about the Mediterranean and the Crusades. This talk further echoed the long history of complex conflict and resource back and forth between the west and eastern sections of the Mediterranean.  Coupled with a personal visit to Malta National War Museum, I felt like I could finally put some pieces into place in terms of the history of Malta and its central position as a cultural crossroads.

It is thinking about this history that I read the news about the US supreme court's decision to uphold the travel ban/restrictions to the US of immigrants from 7 mostly Muslim countries.  Without being too political on a trip focused on computer engineering, one of our missions in ICEX is to increase global citizenship, thus it is difficult to not hear this news as a tragic continuation of the East/West historical tensions.  Learning about Maltese history has helped me see the blame on both sides of history.  I cannot help but hope that like the Maltese language itself and the beautiful bougainvilea flowers against Maltese stone walls, that more fruitful outcomes can rise in the intersections between east and west then the recent US supreme court ruling.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Coding Day 6/25

The plan at the start of the day was to deploy with both the Gavia and the IVER3 at the Schnellboot, HMS Southwold, and SS Polynesian in order to get multi-beam data for the Southwold and Polynesian while getting camera data from the Schnellboot. Unfortunately, the sea was too rough and the deployment was deemed too risky. The multi-beam data would have served as the basis for a series of camera runs on the "new" wrecks while the existing side scan sonar data collected during our large survey would have been used for the Schnellboot. The Gavia is a new AUV acquired by Professor Gambin which is rated for deeper work and is able to gather both side scan and multi beam sonar data, allowing it to get both high definition scans of wrecks when operating close to the bottom but also capable of conducting wide surveys from a higher altitude.
Teledyne Gavia AUV

Nandeeka and I worked on marking the 2017 data for wrecks that were more compatible with the current neural network. Some of the previous wrecks that were marked were more probable wrecks, and thus didn't serve as good training data. Sam and Russell planned missions for Tuesday that would implement the path finding algorithm developed by the previous years team. Bonita and Mitchell worked on obtaining a camera calibration for the GoPro Hero4 so that it's camera footage could be used with the Hero we brought from Mudd. Finally Cole worked on improving the computer model of the Maori so that he could give recommendations to the path planning teams of what sections of the Maori should be focused on in future missions.

The team hard at work

We went to dinner at a very nice restaurant with some refreshing smoothies and great pasta, all in all a great end to a productive day.

Pasta and smoothies!

- Makoto

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Gozo trip 6/23

This morning we began our day with a long bus ride to Ċirkewwa to catch the ferry to Gozo. As a group we hiked up to a tradition Maltese restaurant with an absolutely beautiful view of the islands. When we arrived an extremely kind Maltese man offered to show us how to play boċċi. It is apparently a very popular and traditional game in Malta and Gozo so much so you can almost find a club in every city.

View from the restaurant 

The group watching Kole about to play his turn in boċċi 

Coming into the dock from the ferry

Hike up to the restaurant

After our meal we ventured to the Citadel. Which was the center of Gozo's  administrative work as well as its military and religious life. The fortress featured a beautiful Cathedral, courts, the Bishop’s Palace, a prison, multiple museums and an amazing view of the island and ocean.

Th groupl planning their next adventures in Gozo

View from the top of the Citadel

Playing cards waiting for the bus

Trying to see how many ICEX members can fit in an ancient prison cell

Maltese Food Interview

A few days ago, we traveled to Gozo for our cultural outing, and during at lunch at the Maltese restaurant, Xerri Il-Bukkett, I was lucky enough to have the chance to interview one of the restaurant workers on their beliefs and opinions on Maltese cuisine.  Unfortunately, I forgot to write down his name, but overall, he had a lot of interesting opinions about food on the islands.

He explained to me how Malta's food had been influenced by several other cultures over the years: French, Italian, and especially English, due to Malta's long period of colonization.  However despite such strong influences of other cultures, he said that he felt the Maltese people still very much considered their food to be rather unique and their own. I asked him about what first came to mind when he thought of Maltese food in general, and he said Pastizzi and rabbit were the ones that stuck out in his head. In addition to these foods, he emphasized the prominence of pasta in Maltese cooking, with Maltese pasta (penne with Maltese sausage, cream, and Gozo cheese) being his favorite. 

Finally, we talked about the differences between food on Malta and Gozo, and overall, he felt they were very similar, except for the fact that Gozo has a much stronger emphasis on cheese.  He explained that this is because Gozo has many more farms that the larger island, so naturally, they have more animals and produce more cheese and dairy products here.  He stated that Ġbejniet, fresh Gozo cheese, was definitely an important part of Maltese cuisine but especially so on Gozo.

Overall, I really enjoyed learning about the subtle differences between food on Gozo and Malta, and I am glad I got to learn about Maltese food from a local perspective.

ICEX 2018