...another new blog, sorry

The time comes again
That my title seems odd, so
I get a new one.

Yup. New blog time. This semester's blog will be called SPRINT TO THE END, and it's at sprinttotheend.blogspot.com. See you there. ;)



Sometimes, the day we
Think we will have is further
Than we can believe.

I guess this is the last blog post for this summer... that's sad (again).
It's going to be a long one, though, so get your snacks ready.

Stories are first: since the last time that I wrote a post on here, I've been
traveling still. I found myself spending a last weekend in Berlin (a nice
bookend to my trip, I think, considering I spent my first one there) with
Alex. We went to a cocktail party of a friend of his and generally felt
fancy. I also had the chance to meet the guys he's been living with in Halle
this summer; we had a cookout and general good times.

What followed that was an arduously long train ride to FRA, the airport in
Frankfurt. It was about 7 hours on trains, plus a few hours waiting for a
connection in Mannheim. I'm afraid that I didn't even meet anyone interesting
on these trips; I was much too close to unconscious.

I had my final beer and pretzel breakfast when I arrived the next morning, and
I fell asleep again waiting for my flight. Julius was kind enough to come
meet me at the airport to say goodbye... but I must say I wasn't expecting
that he would actually show up (it had been a part of an offhand comment in
text messages fluttering around the previous day), so I had regrettably
already passed security.

Hours (and movies) later, I found myself in YYZ, which is almost assuredly the airport I've
found myself in second most (next to IND, of course). I was in a strange
travel-coma, as might be expected. Evan met me.

It was a rather odd sort of meeting (as he and I are apt to have, I suppose): he'd come to the airport in time for my flight to land, but I had the immense good fortune of receiving the last bag off the baggage carousel, and so he was sleeping against a post
when I finally emerged from the secret customs area in Pearson. He had been
to a rave the previous night, and was immediately recognizable amid the other
passersby thanks to feathers in his hair, electrical tape on his glasses
(broken again, and this time not by me!), raver candy gleaming on both wrists,
and a brightly coloured shirt. And we spent the afternoon at
his parents' house in Oakville, whereupon I passed out at 6pm and slept for a
good, long time.

The next day was a chance to explore around Waterloo, and by that I mean
"bother Jeff." We didn't have any sort of plan, and Jeff had spent a lot of
time recently playing Braid, so we decided to have a backwards day. We began
by having after-dinner drinks and playing cards, then progressed to going out
to the movies (District 9 - a very strange, but good, sci fi movie), eating dinner, playing on Jeff's Ripstik (which are tremendous
fun, by the way, and apparently the transportation of choice at Facebook,
where both Jeff and Evan will be working just one short week from noW),
getting gelato, and winding up by watching "Cannibal Apocalypse" (where I
slept again) and eating breakfast: Capitain Cronche in French.

A sort-of early start the next day sent Evan and me towards Pat in Montreal,
Canada's other village. It's around 6 hours from Toronto, but we dinked
around in Kingston (lunch at a place called the something-or-other Goat, which meant, naturally, that we had to go there) for a while and got to Pat's around 9.

The next day was spent eating our way through Montreal, which I guess is known for various cuisines. Poutine (yes, Mathieu, this was real poutine),
Montreal-style bagels, and smoked meat make for a very filling day. A quick tour of the "glorified hill" that is the Mont Real promised by the city's name and delicious dinner cooked by Pat's parents rounded out the day. Well, they rounded it out, and it was then capped off by a couple hours in the Fairbank family hot tub. :D

Biking 20km to the city was gorgeous the next day: we explored the old town and surrounding area. Biking 20km back in rain on a bike with no brakes was a little more trying, but it was okay after Evan, Pat, and I sat down to watch a little "Look Around You." I've now seen all 8 of the core episodes, and it was worth every moment.

There don't actually exist any photos of me and Pat from our trip... sort of tragic, but I promise I was there.

Then, back to Waterloo to harass Jeff again. We went to another movie: "Inglourious Basterds," the new and brilliant Tarantino flick. I got tremendous enjoyment from watching it, and though I was certainly the one laughing loudest I do believe everyone else did, too.

At 3:30 yesterday morning, Evan and I peeled ourselves out of bed and got in the car to collect Jeff and one of his friends, Jim, for an epically long and exciting road trip to Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH. The path we wound up taking was a complete circuit around Lake Erie--we went down through Buffalo on the way in and up through Detroit on the way out.

Cedar Point was everything that I remembered it to be. Huge coasters stacked up on a tiny peninsula, huge crowds making huge noise, and huge prices for tiny food. :) But, really, it was awesome. We hit all the big coasters there, despite a minor setback due to rain. At the end of the day, we were all starving, energy reserves depleted from screaming our way all the way through the day. We did have some great souvenir photo shots (one ride, the Raptor, now offers souvenir videos, which we were sorely tempted to purchase after filling them the entire ride with obscene gestures), among which I particularly liked the one showing Evan's mouth oddly contorted by one of the park's wooden coasters and he, Jeff, and I giving the rock \m/

Since we were starving, we headed back down the peninsula into tiny Sandusky to scavenge for food. We found a promising candidate: The Thirsty Pony, a bar/restaurant with pizza at good prices. We sat down and immediately ordered two large pizzas, cheese fries, and a round of beers. But on the way to the table, what was that? Television screens showing horses?

The Google Trio went to investigate. Horse races! None among us had ever bet on the ponies before, so why not try it out? It couldn't hurt, right? So we each threw $5 into the pot and attempted to discover how it's done. This post is getting pretty long already, so suffice to say that there are a lot of different ways to bet on horse races, and it's amusing to see the breakdown of how much money is sunk into safe vs. risky bets (it's displayed at the end of each race). We wound up turning our $15 into $16.80, and Evan and I nearly landed on roughly $3000 apiece in our last bet, but choosing the right horses isn't the same as choosing the right horses in the right order.

A drive sprint brought us to Detroit, where we were woefully lost for half an hour in tangles of one-way streets and seven-way intersections. During the drive, those of us who were not occupied with things like steering cracked open 5 tubes of glowsticks, left over from Evan's rave, and decorated the car with them. I believe we described that it looked like our car had become the nest to a glowing spider; bright ring chains twined through the oh-shit handles, up to the rearview mirror, through the driver- and passenger headrests, and onto all our wrists. We hung larger glowing rings over the sideview mirrors. And the Canadian border officer didn't say anything about them at all.

We finally collapsed into bed at around 5:40 this morning, then arose at the crack of one to get me ready to ship out back home. We had a delicious and nutritious breakfast of leftover pizza (which was deliciously garlicy, by the way), then an actually nutritious lunch-picnic alongside a lake on the way to YYZ.

Okay, now I guess that's all the basic information. In the interest of keeping this blog post to a not-entirely-unreasonable size, I think I'm going to cut it off here. It'll be tough to get back into "real life," whatever that is. Already I've been bombarded with requests from professors to please UI for their classes and set up their talent shows and lead their groups and be their treasurer. I guess that if I can't travel all the time (although I know already that I'm going to Pennsylvania, Arizona, Oregon, Quebec, and probably California this term), I have to keep myself busy somehow. And with a suicide schedule like I've got planned, I don't think that it will be hard. I guess I'll see what Evan's last semester was all about, but this is the FINAL SPRINT TO THE END: Graduation in December!

p.s. Anyone who is reading this (whichever states or countries you may be in) is most cordially invited to my as-yet-unplanned grad party. ;)



back to the alps

Sun sparkles over rocks,
Parts mists, lights mountains, and shines
On all those who smile.

I got another chance to see the Alps, and this time was absurdly fantastic. The comment I put on my Facebook album was that "this place was stupid gorgeous. I'm photo-retarded and wound up with some great shots."

I got to see Alex's "office," and by that I mean the obscenely gorgeous (and freezing) river he has to climb into every day. The water is a really fascinating blue; he told me that it's because it's running over limestone and picking up some of the minerals.

The place that we stayed the first night was a little hütte in the mountains that was owned jointly by a guy named Charly and a guy from Nepal. Charly rides his motorcycle into the mountains along a crazy trail every day to get there. There's a helicopter place out back so that they can airlift the beer in. At night, Charly plays the hammer dulcimer, Simon strums the guitar, and the guy from Nepal sings in languages I can't even recognize. The morning awakening (at a confused-blink-inducing 5:50am) is the same.

Some snow was still hanging on in the shadows of the mountains. I took some time to play in it.

We wandered over everywhere, spent some time stargazing (the Perseids are this week, for those of you keeping score at home), and explored a cave that Alex's supervisor had asked him to check out. The thing was not only at the top of a talus cone, there was about 3 metres of free-climb to be done to get up to it. And do you know what was at the top? Sheep poop. Damn sheep.

We ran into a friendly bunch of mountain sheep, actually, the black one among which was super excited to see us for some reason inapparent.

More wandering brought us to another hütte, where we stopped for a beer (airlifted beer... mmmm...). The rest of the day took us through the klam (gorge), where sudden rain fulfilled the double purposes of chasing away other tourists and making the place feel like a lost world. The klam is basically a canyon carved out by the Partnach (the river Alex works in); it has caves bored through the side for people to walk through, and they're lit with lights too tiny to push back the darkness of a stormy German sky entirely. It was spooky and beautiful.

I met Alex's roommates/field partners: Martin, a PhD student, and Christopher, the son of the professor he's working with. The four of us took a gondola up a mountain the next morning to start another hike.

Atop this mountain, it's apparently great sport to skydive. There were about half a dozen people packing parachutes on the grass, and there were platforms hanging into space designed for them to jump from. I wish I could've tried.

So we hiked down and down and down... pausing, since I was in the company of geologists, to survey a cave or two along the way. The route we took is evidently rather frequented: there were stairs in tough spots down it. We came to another hütte along the way, and Martin and Christopher had sensible lunches while Alex and I had less-than-sensible maßes (litres of beer). It made the rest of the hike down the mountain more fun.

We emerged through another klam, which makes for a pretty excellent story since it was the way out of hell. The valley we'd been in for a while was called Hell's something-or-other (Alex? what was it?). Anyway, this one was even more spectacular than the other one.

Following all that, we went back home for a much-needed shower. Then out to dinner with Mr. Steven Soneff, who was in the area on "business" (and by that I mean he was visiting family in Zürich and wound up committing CLs at the Google office there for part of a day).

I miss the mountains. I'll probably have to find myself there once again in the not-too-distant future. Maybe I'll be a geologist, after all. ;)

p.s. Picasa has been updated! All my photos are there now. :)Link


d&d revisited

No need to cower
In a dark basement when you
Play a robot bard.

Last night brought D&D: Round III. Evan got to take part this time, since he was around, but first a recap of last week's epic board adventures:

0.) The dwarf, the mage, the druid, the defender, and the barbarian find a lonely dragon in a cave and are presented with a medieval cell phone crystal in exchange for a pledge of friendship to him.

1.) The team return to town to sell the heads they've collected during their battles and get some much-needed rest. (And level up!)

2.) The party makes its merry way to Winterhaven in search of a new quest, following a tip from a patron of the tavern in the town they'd come from.

3.) Two dragonborns walk into a bar... and beat the shit out of each other. Well, Juniper (me) beat the shit out of Shamash (Julius). Well, actually, Juniper had been drinking, but he was the one who knocked himself out by trying to charge down the stairs at her. The battle was made more interesting by the fact that one in our party tried to stop us (we thrashed him) and one tried to keep the fight going as long as possible by alternating healing the two of us. The dwarf, Harbek, made sure no one important was coming and dragged the unconscious out of the way when necessary.

4.) We get a quest! This is mainly due to the fact that Shamash and Juniper are out of commission and not able to harass the Lord of Winterhaven. Then we pay for the table we broke in the inn and head out to beat up some more Kobolds.

5.) We get the tar beat out of us by the Kobolds.

6.) Two of us die. :(

And there ended our game for the evening (and our consumption of horrible-for-us foods like peanut butter-flavoured Cheeto things, sour gummy strips, and chili pepper-flavoured tea), whereupon we adjourned and made our way to our respective professions/distractions.

This week found us with three new characters: an elven druid, a shape-shifting humanoid of some kind, and Evan's robot bard.

The adventure that we faced involved the strange circumstances of meeting these fellows (the shapeshifter managed to sneak into our camp disguised as... a Siberian tiger? how did I not notice that...?) and the more standard beatings of monsters alongside them. Unfortunately, there was no wolf-throwing or dragon-tackling or stair-tripping this game, but at the end we wound up with our robot bard running through a waterfall into an ambush and being javelined and rusted into robot death.

So we again packed up our treats (this time we had feasted on brie, crackers, playgirl-shaped gummys, more sour gummy strips, curry ketchup chips, more peanut butter Cheetos, more gummy everything, and beer) and headed out, managing to squeeze in a few hours' sleep before striking forth to appear as productive members of society.

There were a few important lessons that I learned during the game (related to, gasp, real life!). One is that having fuzzy dice hanging in your car, which in the US implies that you are a "playa" or some such, in Germany brands you as a role-player. The second, and really more vital, lesson was that, when toasting, you are always to use the bottom of your glass because "glasses and women are to be thrust at the bottom."

Then I took Evan to the airport, and here I sit. Run, experiments, run!


to be quite frank(enstein)...

A monster lives deep
In the woods, prowls out to eat,
Scaring the locals.

Burg (Castle) Frankenstein is actually really close to here... within just 20 minutes (well, it took us more than half an hour to get there, but it's a 20 minute drive if you do it properly). It supposedly inspired the famous novel by Mary Shelley, which is a fantastic read if you're bored over a summer, and I guess I can see why? I mean, it's hidden in the forests at the top of a hill, and, though it's just ruins now, one can see the formidable character that it must once have had.

It's also still impenetrable... unless you are a tourist. We walked around the backside of the thing for 20 minutes or so, looking for a place to scale the wall to see in, and we were thwarted time and again by dead brush and rusted razor wire (which hurts when rubbed upon the skin), until we made it all the way round to the entrance. Where you can walk in.

It was a pretty low-key sort of attraction; mainly the only people around were a pair of goth girls in medieval clothing and black wings doing a photo shoot. There wasn't even a place to get post cards...

The castle itself was nice, and I'm glad I went, but there was neater stuff to be seen in the forest around. Julius and Olex (guys from Jugger) came with, and we found a little forest lean-to, a crazy forest wood man, a listening cone, a forest xylophone, and a slice of a tree with life events detailed on an accompanying board.

I wish the place had been a bit creepier, but it was really just another set of castle ruins... but it was made up for by the after party: D&D character building! On Wednesday Evan will become Qwghlm-0.87, a robot bard. Awesome.


luck o' the irish

Mists rolling o'er hills,
Veiling ancient castles, burn
To rainbows at last.

The Emerald Isle was as green and mysterious a place as I could have expected it to be, at least outside of Dublin. I'm quite relieved that I got the chance to see things outside the city: Dublin seemed to be all pubs, wet benches, dirty rivers, houses, and tiny patches of grass not intended for walking. The pubs bit was alright, certainly (the famous Temple Bar! which is, in fact, an entire district, and not just a bar), and I guess there was the additional benefit of running into Nadège and Catherine and Jean-François. :D Evan and I actually managed to stumble across the latter pair in FRA on our way out.

Oh, right! Evan is here! He came in, partially comatose from overwork and overstress and undersleep, from YYZ (Toronto Pearson) on Friday morning at 6:30, which meant that yours truly, who lives, conveniently, in the middle of nowhere, had to wake up at 4 to get there to meet him. I didn't realize that it ever actually got fully dark here in Germany; even at midnight it seems that there's still dusk hanging about the edges of the sky, but at 4 in the morning it's like pitch.

So we got into Dublin and spent the evening exploring the Temple Bar area, then awoke the next morning to meet the French Canadian Contingent at City Hall for the New Europe free tour of Dublin. It was to start at 11am... so where was everyone at 10:55? Not around the back, not at the side, not in the castle... were we in the wrong building?

Nope, just the wrong time zone. Damn GMT.

So after an hour in which we explored Trinity College (and were admonished to stay clear of the grasses thereof) and ate delicious Irish muffins (who knew you could put butterscotch in frosting?), the tour was awesome; the guy who led it seemed pretty passionate about everything, plus he was Irish, and listening to his accent for 3.5 hours was entertaining in itself. :)

We learned about the horrible misfortunes of the Irish people, and how the "luck o' the Irish" may be considered sarcasm. They've had lots of failed uprisings, invasions by the Vikings, famines, and general not-good-ness. Trinity College, for example, was off-limits for the Irish people for a long time. There were some pretty fantastic stories about it, though: the tower/gate located in the middle of the grounds is supposed to mean bad marks on exams when students walk under. Its redeeming quality is that, if a student is able to climb all the way to its top, he or she will receive first in his/her class. The catch? The dean is allowed to shoot at the climber with a crossbow.

We saw some interesting additions to the city for the millennium, including a spire thing that wasn't actually finished until 2003. It's really tall and slender, and it's equipped with a light at the peak "in case there is a helicopter chase through Dublin." Um, okay.

There was also the requisite bit about Bono, whom our tourguide loathes with a passion, evidently.

The River Liffey that flows through the centre of the city is quite a sight; it's maybe the filthiest river I've ever seen. Irish wisdom has it that you don't need to be Jesus Christ to walk on that water.

Christchurch Cathedral is a cathedral, naturally, which is great, but the best story about it was that it holds two mummies. They aren't human, but instead they are a cat and mouse that were found, dead, in the organ's pipes during cleaning. The Irish, with their weird sense of humour, decided that wouldn't it be great to mummify these guys and let them chase each other for eternity? So they did. Also around this area were some remains from a Viking settlement (the Vikings had terrorized the island several times over the years), which were sort of neat.

After the conclusion of that tour, there was still another classic to be done: The Guinness Factory! It was a chance to learn how beer was made and to sample a pint of "the black stuff." Mmmmmmmm...

On to Cork, just a 4.5 hour busride away. Buses are serious business in Ireland; the bus station in Dublin was set up to be as efficient as an airport, with terminals and departure boards and -announcements and whatnot. On the bus ride, the sun caught the misting rain just right and refracted into a gorgeous Irish rainbow. No pot of gold that I saw, though...

Cork was way sleepier than Dublin, which was fantastic. It was possible to see countryside (and to walk on grass inside the city limits!) from everywhere. The trip out to Blarney Castle was also great; the castle stands tall and proud against the elements, even after hundreds of years. The Blarney Stone itself is far more awkwardly-located than I might have imagined; one must climb to the top of the castle (five storeys) and dangle backwards over a chasm that opens to the ground in order to kiss it. I did it, but I've probably got about 47 new diseases from it. :-/ At least I've also got the gift of gab!

Again, wandering the countryside was fantastic. The sheep and cows speckled emerald hillsides under temperamental grey skies which alternately drizzled on us and glowed with caught sunlight. I think that Irish cream must come from those cows.

This was followed by a night on the town and an early-morning flight back home.


just a photo

Some spiky steel thing
Called me to climb it. So I
Did. Took photos, too.


paris, je te laine!

The city of lights
Shines, a spire sparkles, wine flows...
Paris in July.

A mere four hours' train ride from Frankfurt sits Paris, the most popular tourist destination on the planet. It's home to culture, style, and history of all varieties. I'm inclined to say that it's one of my favourite cities in Europe so far: tied, of course, with Stockholm. :)

Alex and I spent some time checking out the famous sights in Paris: the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay, the Seine, the Cathedral Notre Dame, the Military Hospital that is now Napoleon Bonaparte's burialplace, the Champs Élysées etc. The Tour de France was finishing on the Champs Élysées, though, on Sunday, so everything in Paris was packed.

Eiffel Tower : awesome. I can't believe this was supposed to be a temporary installment for the World's Fair. It's huge and gorgeous, and it was (sadly) too busy to wait in line to go up. At night it sparkles on the hour, and by "sparkles" I mean that there are thousands of strobe lights on it that blink like crazy. Lying on the lawn in the park and looking at this thing was an event in itself.

Arc de Triomphe : conveniently located in the centre of the craziest traffic circle I've ever seen. It's about 6 lanes wide, but there aren't painted lines, so there's no way to know. There are 12 roads that converge on this thing, and right-of-way goes away. Our tour guide also said that no insurance company in the world will accept claims from an accident here. So, naturally, Alex and I decided to forego the underground walkway and cross the exciting way. The Arc de Triomphe is also the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in France, and there's an eternal flame burning to commemorate their fallen.

Louvre : Crazy awesome. Actually seeing the Venus de Milo, the Mona Lisa, the Code of Hammurabi, and a zillion other works worth a zillion dollars each is a ridiculous sort of feeling. The building that this place is in is also gorgeous; each room is themed to match the works it holds, including amazing ceiling artwork in most of the rooms. The floors were gorgeous granite and marble and wood, and the place was huge.

Musée d'Orsay : Not as massive as the Louvre, but it holds works nearly as famous. That Van Gogh self-portrait? Saw it. Monet? He's there. Not as many drop-dead gorgeous rooms as the Louvre, but still mega-famous.

Seine : What do you call someone who falls off a bridge in Paris? Anyway, the Seine is pretty nice. There were boat tours drifting up and down along it all day. It's good to take a break for relaxing and watching the water.

Notre Dame : BIG. Home to stained glass windows as large as my house. I'd be kinda ticked if this was the church I attended, though, since despite sufficient signage, there was no semblance of silence in the place for prayer and whatnot. Alex and I decided that they should sell "Quasi is my Homeboy" t-shirts at the gift shop, but unfortunately they didn't get that memo, I guess.

Crypts : Near Notre Dame, there are some neat old crypts that you can walk through for just a couple euro. I couldn't help but think of Return to Castle Wolfenstein as I walked in them, though... hahahaha. :)

Les Invalides : This is the Military Hospital. Our boy Napoleon is buried here, and the tour guide informed us that the reason his tomb was constructed the way it is (a pit-ish thing) is so that whenever people visit to see him, they are forced to bow. I guess that when Hitler came to see Napoleon, though, he brought a mirror with him to avoid bowing. Hrm.

Champs Élysées : "The most famous avenue in the world." I don't really buy that, but it was really classy. There were car dealerships (Renault, Peugeot), a Nike store (Alex and I got LiveStrong bracelets in honour of the Tour... at 1 euro each they were definitely the cheapest thing on the street), clothing stores (Louis Vitton and other big names that I don't care about... I did buy a pair of sweet-ass earrings, though, to say that I did it), and restaurants (we ate at one on the second night and were highly entertained by a pair of ladies from New York, one of whom had indulged a little too much in the wine).

Cemetery : Burialplace of Chopin and... Jim Morrison? Also Oscar Wilde, but he was someplace in the back and we got lost. :-/ Anyway, it was curious that these two both rather famous musicians from vastly different times/walks of life ended up as neighbours.

Obelisk : Paris has a really big obelisk with heiroglypics on it. That was sort of weird.

Wine/food : Mmmmmmm... Baguettes, brie, crépes, creme caramel, and general French delicion. :D The Bordeaux in France is also tasty, but that's not a tough thing to figure out.

Oh, the French.

Random note: for some reason, Parisians get the reputation that they're a bunch of stuck-up jerks, but it wasn't true at all for us. Every time we pulled out a map, someone stopped, not prompted, to help us figure out where we were and where we needed to go. Also, everyone seemed to speak English, despite what you may have heard. Hrm. Also, they love pink toilet paper for some reason that I haven't figured out yet.

Yeah, I'd go back. I need to to see the damn Tower. Next time, though, I think I'll avoid going the weekend that the Tour is there; getting a train back home was a nightmare. They were all full because people had to fly out of FRA (Europe's biggest airport). ARGH. So I didn't get home until late, and then had the pleasure of sleeping in. Ahhhh...


KNOLedge is POWer

A throwback! Regress!
I'd nearly forgotten it.
And learned something new.

After a year, my feature has been released for use in knol! There's an article about how to use it here:


The note from my supervisor also mentioned that the way it was deployed was different than originally planned, so it should be easily plug-innable to other Google products now, i.e. docs and mail. Sweeeeeeeeeeet. ^_______^

So what was the new thing I learned? D&D! I was lingering in the lamentable state of being a nerd without being a proper nerd worthy of other nerds' respect... but that's all changing now. ;)

I am: female, youthful, athletic, acrobatic, strong, semi-charismatic, moderately unintelligent, wielding a greatsword, and dragonborn.

You are: able to make up for my tragically low hitpoints and armor class with healing powers.

Other than that, I'm not picky.

We had awesome fun (I played with my dear friends from Jugger, which I can only assume doesn't come as a surprise :P); it was not really how I expected at all! For the uninitiated, here is a brief rundown of how it goes:

-1) With the help of a computer (surprise), Julius, Olex, and I develop a ridiculous Dragonborn barbarian chick with mega stats for BEATING PEOPLE IN THE FACE. We equip her with the requisite armour, weapon, and ale pitcher.

0) Participating nerds convene in a room in the computer science building, at night after normal people have left.

1) The DM pulls out his bag of goodies, including little figurines of all the characters and--I had no idea that this was how it worked--tile-y things to put together a map of what it was we were seeing.

2) The players laugh and make appropriately immature jokes about whether or not a dragonborn female has boobs because she has them in the drawing in the book but logically reptilian creatures don't need mammary glands.

3) We are led into the story with, "You see before you a wooden door..."

4) The other dragonborn in the party (equally as unintelligent as my character) listens at the door and rolls a pathetically low number for perception check... hears nothing. Checks to see if it is locked... no.

5) With 19 strength, I punch through the door, despite the fact that it isn't locked. POW.

6) The dwarf ranger and his wolf run inside and stand by the door. The room is big and has a big rock at one end, a small alcove at the other, a 10ft (why do they use feet instead of metres? oh, because all the D&D books are conveniently only available in English) high square wall column thing in the middle, and a platform opposite the door.

7) I run past him, almost directly into a dragon, and to the base of the stairs up to the platform, where a mean-looking sorceror is just chillin.

8) The elven druid runs near to the rock and starts dragging baddies around with magical... magic-ness.

9) The rock starts rolling around the room.

10) ...we all hit people in the face/shoot people in the face/drag people around/jump off ledges and onto flying dragons, tackling them to the ground/throw wolves/rescue each other from the rolling rock/rescue each other from imminent death with healing surges (admittedly it was only I who was rescued...)/leap across gaps/fail to leap across gaps/hit more people in the face.

11) Victory!

I was shocked at how many weird contingencies the authors of the books had planned for: there were actually accepted rules for how to, um, leap off a platform and onto a dragon. They were based on dice rolls and acrobatic skill. Also the wolf-throwing. I wouldn't have counted on someone thinking of that.

Anyway, it was good times. We ordered pizza and ate cookies and gummy apple rings. For some reason, everything in Germany is available in gummy form? But, yes, D&D. Nerd cred for me!


i love gay bar

The tide goes always out,
The Vikings go forth to trade,
And mead is on tap.

As Mathieu and I stepped off the plane in Skavsta airport, one of the first things we noticed was that, dammit, we were in Sverige (Sweden in Swedish) and it was 10 degrees warmer than in Deutschland. Fricking Deutschland.

We met up with Alex, and the first place that we decided to check out was Nyköping (pronounced "ni-SHEP-ing"), a small town just 7 minutes from the airport by bus. It was, um, basically adorable, and it afforded us the opportunity to bring Mathieu to his first ocean (sort of..) and to eat some delicious and reasonably-priced lunch (that was... the last time that happened). Then we hopped on a train, which was thankfully faster than the trains in Poland, and headed to Stockholm.

So Stockholm is basically awesome. It looks like Wien, but it is located on an archipelago, and 14 islands comprise the city. When the glaciers carved that area out, they just sort of hung out on top of it for a while, crushing everything down, and now the islands are slowly rising out of the water, about 50cm every 100 years (hey, Mr. Geologist, are you going to elaborate on this?). So Stockholm is no longer filled with seawater, but instead is really in a massive lake that drains into the Baltic Sea. When we first arrived, it looked like the tide was going out really strongly, and then... 8 hours later it was still going out really strongly. But our Viking tour guide enlightened us as to what was up.

Oh, Saturday night we went out for dinner at one of the oldest restaurants in Stockholm. We had Swedish meatballs, which we were informed include reindeer meat. Then we went home to make party on our boat hostel. :D 21st birthday, part ii!

Might I now mention that we were all highly annoyed by the law in Sweden that you aren't allowed to drink in the streets. It's going to be hard to come back to the states... But that meant that we had to do all of our drinking in bars, where a pint of beer cost around 65 kronor, which is about 6.50 euro or $8. Ugh. Expensive. We were informed by a random Swedish guy that a low-end salary in Stockholm is around 50,000 kronor per month, which is $7,000. Damn.

The following morning, we had some delicious breakfast at our hostel and hopped on a ship to Birka, aka Swedish Viking Central. It was the site of the first city in Sweden, and also a UNESCO world heritage site. We got the lowdown on lots of Viking stuff; apparently the Swedish Vikings were the tamest of the bunch, and they mainly traded with Russians and the rest. The rape-and-pillage-style Vikings were more from Norway and Denmark. Also, Vikings didn't actually wear the horned helmets that they have become renowned for; that was an aesthetic detail added by some archaeologist who found a helmet (not designed for battle, just for a statue) that had ornamentations on it that were a bit broken and resembled horns who happened to decide that Vikings should be a little more badass if they wanted to be set apart from all the other pirate types in Europe in that era.

We heard some awesome stories about the village that used to be in Birka, including how it became Christian (our tour guide's comment was that "they already had Odin, Thor, Freyr, Frigg, so, Jesus? A bonus god? Great!") and then burned down the church when they discoverd that Christianity wanted them to keep just one god. And I was amused when he started telling legends about Valkyries.

After another 90-minute boat ride, we found ourselves once more in Stockholm, this time starving. We found a medieval restaurant in the old town that had exactly the ambiance we were looking for after poking around Viking shit all day. They had mead on tap, and our silverware was a steak knife and a huge spoon each. The napkin for the three of us was one really long piece of cloth, and we shared a "Viking feast" that included salmon, sausage, pork, sauerkraut, peas puree, apple pie, delicious soup, bread, and weird bread-topping that was some kind of sour cream-based stuff. Mmmmmmm... dead stuff. Good heavens, I am a terrible vegetarian.

With roughly 5 hours until the first bus left for the airport and no hostel to stay in, we wandered the town and met some crazy Swedish people and enjoyed the ambiance of the archipelago. My fuzzy vest was sometimes more- and sometimes less well-received, but I still thought it was basically awesome, and it attracted some amusing attention at times. Mathieu and Alex both acquired Viking drinking horns (and by that I mean cow horns that were hollowed out with the intent of filling them with mead), and all was good.




Even a Wednesday
Can be used for a party
If you do it right.

I'm 21, guys! The traditional benefits associated with such birthday in the States don't really apply here in Europe, though, so I guess it's probably time for a post-birthday drinking-ages-around-the-world rant:

As you may know, kids in the US are not legally permitted to imbibe alcohol until they have reached the age of 21. Most places in the world it's around 18 (although some have interesting laws on that; in Deutschland it's 16 to drink and buy beer and 18 to buy hard alcohol, but most places (the UK, most of Canada, etc. (come to think of it, it seems to be places where English is spoken)) it's just straight-up 18), but there are exceptions, of course. In Tokelau (ocean nation), the drinking age is 29. In much of the Middle East, alcohol is illegal, period. In Cuba, there isn't a drinking age at all; you and your five-year-old are free to enjoy a beer together on the veranda if you so choose.

So what's the allure here? When I went to visit Evan in Gatineau, it was obvious that there was one. Gatineau is right on the border of Ontario and Quebec, which happen to have disparate drinking ages. Lots of bars on the Quebec side had signs up that you were only permitted to drink at 18 (rather than 19) if you could prove that you lived in Quebec.

Then, of course, there are the famous American fraternity parties. I'm pretty sure that some amount of underage drinking goes on there.

But it's so ridiculous to have high drinking ages, ne? At least in the US, kids don't learn how to drink properly and wind up abusing alcohol. I don't remember the stats, but a while back I read an article about incidence rates of various psychological illnesses, and a person who goes to university in the US is like 500% more likely to be an alcoholic than an average person in the US.

It's a wonder that things like Prohibition were ever passed. People aren't going to get over alcohol. It's a social lubricant! Based on media and advertising nowadays, it's impossible to have a good time without it.

Anyway, I'm sure that you've heard all this before from a zillion other sources.

For my birthday, I was given many pleasant surprises! In the morning, my lovely friends Mathieu and Teetee (as well as a couple guys who work in our lab, Simon and Roman) busted out "Happy birthday" and a cake that they miraculously produced from somewhere. :D My mom and dad also sent me a collection of chocolatey deliciousness, and Marie made a cake for me that she brought to my party. I do believe that the only things I ate yesterday were cake, cake, chocolate, cake, and a salad.

Steven gave me a really interesting gift: carrot seeds! Why is a carrot more orange than an orange? Well, I dunno, but I'm about to go proselytize about it.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the number of people who showed up! Nearly all the Darmstadter interns as well as friends from Jugger. Woot!

Summary of the evening:

Mathieu: It's Jager!
Me: !
Mathieu: You can only have it if you are going to drink the whole thing.
Me: !

Julius: Let's go to the park
Me: !

Poornima: I need to go to the bathroom.
Me: We just have to get over this fence. *climbs over fence in dress and heels*
Everyone else: Dammit. Now we have to do it, too.

Olex: Pool?
Me: !

...this morning...

Me: Hi, Teetee.
Teetee: I'm impressed.

Me: 1 Hangover: 0


INFO: correctly computed bobolink

Birds of a feather,
Flock together, but what about
Index terms? Do they?

It's time for my... semi-monthly job status update! I'm still doing work here, and NOW IT'S GOING A LITTLE MORE AWESOME. I'm still getting mega-frustrated with the thing as a whole (frameworks? uck. And why should you be able to do a thesis in CS by just writing a lot of code? Shouldn't you have to do something arguably new? There were some presentations today in our lab that were basically that some Masters students are revamping systems to work with German and English instead of just German... diploma, please.), and I'm still pretty sure that I'll have to go work for Bill Stone (or some other explorer-adventurer), but it's a relief to see a string of things that say

INFO: correctly computed bobolink
INFO: correctly computed muckadilla creek
INFO: correctly computed jacky-jacky

That means that my algorithms are working, and maybe someday you'll see me in the acks for a book index. ;) Plus I get to read about weird stuff on the interwebs.


heidelberg. or: how to put 360 north americans in a german university town

Under blazing sky,
Ancient music spreads softly
Through the old city.

This weekend was the DAAD-RISE 2009 conference in Heidelberg, which meant that the 390 (only 360 were from North America.. others from the UK) interns hired by the programme to come to Deutschland for the summer were treated to a weekend in the city that houses Germany's oldest university. The conference itself involved thanks from the organisers (amazingly, the organising team is just 5 people, which is probably why their email response time is somewhat... laggy), a jazz ensemble made up of a trio of a previous year's interns, chats about how to go about getting funding to do a Master's or PhD in Deutschland, company visits, and a trip for everyone to the Culturbräurei.

The company visit that I went on was a little bit (read: quite) dull. It was a trip to Agilent, a company that makes measuring instruments for chemicals. I mean, that's an important thing, and some of the machines that they demoed for us were pretty neat. For instance, there was a chip that they invented that vastly simplified the tasks of geneticists who have to do electrophoresis-type experiments: you just put in a tiny sample, put the thing in a box hooked to your computer, and the box and software magically record everything about the sample for you and run whatever experiment it is that you've told them to run. I don't know why no one thought of this before, but it was kinda sweet. Maybe I was jaded about the content of this tour because of all the Take Your Daughter to Work Days I've been to; Dad's toys are way cooler than these people's.

Other people went on other company visits, based on the area of their internships. Alex (Mr. Geologist) went to Messel Pit, a UNESCO site with a lot of interesting dead things in it. After that, the group went to a vineyard to experience, um, German hospitality.

At the Culturbräurei, there was a moment that made all of us realise that we're not in Kansas (or even North America) any longer; one of our dear friends who had enjoyed herself a little too much at the winery passed out on the table at dinner. In NA, this would be grounds for a kicking-out, but in Deutschland? The bartender brought her a pillow.

Thanks to the DAAD, all the interns were also given a free tour of Heidelberg. There's a famous castle there, and there are a few awesome things about it. For one, the inner courtyard is filled with buildings in the Renaissance, Baroque, and Gothic styles. Evidently, the castle has been home to many prince electors (they get to choose who is king) over the years, and each one wanted to feel like he contributed something to the design of the place. One thing that stayed the same for all the live-ins, though, was a wine cellar, including the largest wine cask I've ever seen, located in a room obviously built specifically to house it. There was also a gate that was built for Queen Elizabeth. For her birthday. In one night. See what I'm expecting, guys? ;)

Other than the scheduled things, there was a lot of free time to explore the city. Heidelberg is positively brimming with culture, as most cities around this area, and I was thrilled with the opportunity to go to a Bach concert in Peterskirche. It was put on by a group at the university in Heidelberg, and it was awesome. There was a choir and a pipe organ, and lots of "yay." ^____^

Also! I finally got to see my 4(+7)th of July fireworks! Saturday night, one of the famous bridges in Heidelberg was closed to foot and car traffic in order to put on a pretty good lightshow. The schloß was alight, too, and made an awesome backdrop. To make it even better, the moon was near-full and rising, and the beer was only 80 cents.



To believe, be free,
And stand a chance in (any)
Eternity, play.

I just found a couple of pretty amusing news articles.

Game show looks to convert atheists

Would you pledge your soul as loan collateral?

And I felt the need to share. I'm sure the economic crisis is getting pretty intense if we're bartering our eternal peace (I mean, if we're bartering it after we win it on a gameshow).

on the road

Weaving between cars,
Defying death (or something),
Ridin' on the bus!

In keeping with the really strong tendencies towards using public transit here in Deutschland, there are some special things in effect related to the way it has to work. For instance, there are special bus lanes so that buses can dodge all that nasty early morning traffic. On occasion I am inclined to snicker at all the poor fools in their (immobile) fuel-efficient cars as we whisk by.

Another interesting component of the transit system here is the drivers. Surely they are psychologically... off. No sane person would be willing to navigate a metal box holding 60 people through a street 7 metres wide with a car on each side at 40km/h. One woman in particular (she drives the 8:23 bus from Dieburg to Darmstadt) seems mentally askew in other ways, as well.

Since the streets are so narrow, there are some other interesting complications, mainly related to parking. Yes, people can park on both sides of the street, leaving just enough space for one car to squeeze through between them. Vastly more common, however, are parkings half-on-half-off the sidewalks. I'm reasonably certain that it's legislated in certain areas that you must park like this. Time to go off-roading in your Mercedes!

There doesn't seem to be a lot of reverence for pedestrian space, for that matter: I've been walking through a park when suddenly I'm forced to make way for a vehicle driving along what I could have sworn was a sidewalk. It's in a park, for crying out loud.

The strange thing is that pedestrians do seem to have a lot of rights. If the walk light is green or there is any ambiguity about whose turn it is, drivers will let the pedestrian go 98% of the time. Maybe that's just because I've been spending time mostly in big cities and college towns, but it's nice, nonetheless.



Arbeit nicht macht frei.
Never, ever forget the
Lessons of this place.

While all of you at home were celebrating freedom with fireworks and beer, I had the opportunity to (read: couldn't help but) think about what freedom really means. I hope that everyone who reads this takes time in his or her life to visit the concentration camps Auschwitz and Birkenau in Oświęcim, Polska. It's hard to think about the fact that I walked through rooms where hundreds of thousands of people died. I'm not a child of the war by any means; I was born more than 40 years after it ended, and as far as I know no one in my family was directly affected by it. I grew up in the US, I'm not Jewish... but that was probably the most terrifying place I've ever been to in my entire life. I don't really feel I can say anything else except, "go."

...Other than that, Kraków was pretty neat. There's a church there that has a tall tower with a clock (surprise, I know), but on every hour for 600 years there's been a bugler at the top who plays a tune. Kinda weird. There's also a huge mall, including a movie theatre currently playing Transformers (in Polish) and a McDonalds.

Poland is really cheap. They use a currency called the zloty, and they're about 4:1 on the euro and 3:1 on the US dollar. Alex and I went out for a nice dinner in the Jewish quarter of the city, and it cost about 100 PLN (that's the abbreviation for zloty) for the two of us. The train trip to Oświęcim from Kraków was 16 PLN roundtrip... though I would've been pissed if it had been more, mainly because the trains in Poland are ridiculously slow. I took a video, which I'll put up later today (theoretically) of just how absurd it was. Oświęcim is about 50 km from Kraków, and the ride was roughly 2 hours. On the express train.

That was okay, though, because we got a chance to meet some kids from Croatia. They were nice, and I actually don't think I'd met anyone from there before. One of them told a pretty excellent story about how he'd gone out and gotten trashed then woken up with a Swedish girl's business card in his pocket. We also got to admire several random Polish people alongside the train tracks who were notably underclad and gathered around bonfires. Oh, random.

The hostel that we stayed in was, you know, pretty nice, but the stay there was totally rockin', mainly because of the people. There was a man who we decided was probably God in disguise who took it as his onus to ensure everyone got where he needed to be. The morning we were leaving, there was a cadre of rather hungover boys in the same dorm room as we three (me, Alex, and God), and he basically threw them out of bed and told them to "get their shit together." He informed me that I was manic, and Alex that he was in the army. He gave us advice on every aspect of life, and he seemed to have been everywhere and to know everything. It was sort of ridiculous.

Total cost for the weekend? Under 50 euro, including hostel. Awesome.

I really want to go back to Poland someday, I think. We didn't get a chance to see the famed salt mines; time was too tight on Sunday morning when we had to go catch our flights. It won't be for a while, though. I need a bit more time to recover.



Ribbons of light stream,
Mix with screams, light the town, and
Mark the festival.

This week in Darmstadt is Heinerfest. AFAIK, "Heiner" is a title that the Darmstadters have chosen for themselves, though I can't honestly say I think it's particularly flattering. :-/ Anyway, it's a festival!

After Jugger ended on Thursday, Mathieu and I headed out with a few Germans (and a Russian) from same. It was sort of absurdly expensive (bumper cars - €1, drop tower - €3,50, ferris wheel €4), but still a lot of fun.

It was also pretty different from American festivals. I guess my only experience has been with those of the 4-H variety (for the record, I had no idea what the 4 Hs were until I read that page... "Head, Heart, Hands, and Health."), which include projects by kids aged 6 to 18 or so. I did 4-H one year: cake decorating! It was, um, okay. Not particularly rewarding, but I suppose it might have built my character a bit, or something like that. Anyway, there were no quilts to judge or farm animals to pet at this fair: since the drinking age in Germany is just 16, there was just a lot of beer. :( No goats! No bunnies! Sad day! Oh, but the same expensive fair food that's at home seems to be a staple at fairs everywhere.

Edit (after a question by Adam): German fairs don't seem to have carnies in the same way that American ones do. Those who were hawking the games seemed less than enthusiastic to perform such duty, and those running the rides didn't strike me as creepy at all. Well, they could have been, I suppose, but I'd've never known, since I don't really understand German. :) And the addition of techno as the soundtrack for every single ride was also a bit of a change.

Fun was had. How could it not be? It's a festival!



Si no puedas usar
Lo que enseñas, no lo
Pongas en la red.

This website made me giggle a lot, I'm not gonna lie. I don't have much to say about it, other than that I'm highly amused that it failed to use «ñ» correctly in its title and proclaims to teach one how to type things in Español, including the offending character. One of my favourite parts, given the top, is the description of the page author at the bottom: "His goal is to help others learn Spanish by supporting them in their efforts and by pointing them in the right direction."

In other Spanish-related news, I've been given a heads-up on a couple of exciting opportunities to brush the dust off my sadly underused skillz. Mi profesora de la escuela secundaria (Rosemary Haro) contacted me a couple days ago about writing a letter of recommendation for her to win a contest for "Best Secondary School Language Teacher," or something like that. :D Me alegro de que ella me la presentaba la oportunidad.

Also, a friend has mentioned a possible internship for spring semester (after I graduate, yay!) that's in... Argentina. His comment? "I mean, hey,
Argentina, amiright!?"

Yes, Joe, you are.


giving you up

A slow march of death,
Pulling down one at a time,
Nefarious. Ish.

So what's with all these celebrities dying? It seems like places can't take care of themselves when I leave. Last summer the Midwest went and got flooded when I was out in CA, and this year the US's just letting all my childhood heroes (well, maybe) drop like flies: MJ, Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon, and Billy Mays. And now Rick Astley might be dead? Get your act together, folks. ;)


i'm on a boat! also, dresden

Never thought I'd be
On a boat... and all that. But
I did. These guys rock.

This was the first weekend since Berlin that I've headed out on the train on my own. I guess that, in short, it was a touring fail and a socializing win.

The ride to Dresden provided me with the company of two fellows: Jens and Martin. (Damn, I am meeting a lot of Martins/Martyns here for some reason.) Martin was a computer game artist, and Jens was a pump salesman. We spent 4 hours chattering about the ever-changing state of world politics (also apathy), the strange summer that's settled in here in Germany, and when advertisers will start paying people to have their jingles as ringtones. It was a better way to spend my time than catching up on my newsmagazines... although I still desperately need to do that.

Upon arrival in Dresden, I managed to find, despite my terrible memory and new hairstyle, the proper Jens and another friend, Jupp. These were two of the guys that I had originally met for/during the Cluster Challenge at SC08. We had to spend a week around each other, sleep-deprived, in Austin, so we, you know, became friends. I probably laughingly told them at some point during that week that if I were ever to come to Germany, I'd surely visit them. Anyway, the rest is history.

Social wins: we went out to a club with Norman, one of Jupp's friends, and, even though the music was terrible, it was kinda fun. We hung out outside for a long while (an hour or so after the sun started rising at... 4:00 am), chatting, and it was güt.

Robin, Jupp, and Jens showed me around their campus the next morning. Some of their lecture halls are awesome. One used to be a prison, and you can actually still see the bases of bars on the windows where they were cut out. Their CS building also amused me a lot; there were some huge sculptures in the middle of the main hall that totally looked like those little green aliens from Zelda GameBoy games (I can't think what they're called..).

Tourism fails: the next day we went to the city centre to explore all the (...can you guess?) old buildings. On the tram ride there, I got caught without a ticket and had to pay €40. :( That's quite a step up from the €1.80 that the ticket was going to be... but it's not so unlikely that I have, um, "borrowed" approximately that amount in train rides, anyway, so I didn't feel too bad about it. We strolled down the bank of the Elbe, past the University of Fine Arts (which was really gorgeous) and the Hofkirche and the Frauenkirche... we tried to get into a couple of the churches in the area, but they were both closed. Argh.

Some of the buildings in downtown Dresden are really interesting; they were mostly destroyed in the war, but they were also rebuilt, and they used a lot of the original stones for this new construction. This gives a neat effect, though. There are a lot of black stones that are really old mixed in with a lot of white stones that are really new. Dresden: the dalmatian city.

Some of the buildings are interesting for other reasons. Various kings and other royalty have made Dresden their home over the centuries, and they've left behind some amusing structures. One that I found particularly amusing and overly-lavish was the Zwinger palace. I was told that it was built as a harem for one king's women. Bahahaa... these guys knew how to live. :D

Social win: That night we (at this point, "we" was Jens, Jupp, Robin, Mandy (Robin's girlfriend), and I) went out to a bar that was known for serving beers from various countries around the world. I tried Chinese, Taiwanese, Cuban, African--which was crazy... it was called "Juju Beer," and it was intended to be served by a young African virgin girl?--, and some other kinds of beers. Delicious! I learned like two more words of German, too. (vocabulary++!)

Social win: Later that night, "we" became Jens, Jupp, Norman (Jupp's friend), Stefan (Norman/Jupp's friend), and Bine (I hope I spelled that right... also Norman/Jupp/Stefan's friend), and we went to a club called Downtown. It was totally ridiculous. I was informed previously that Germany was still "musically in the 80s," but I didn't quite believe it until I was given the choice opportunity to dance to MC Hammer's "Can't Touch This" in a club. A lot of the music played was in English, actually, which led to a couple of amusing conversations. For instance:

Pussycat Dolls: Don't cha wish your girlfriend was raw like me... (aside: this can be fairly indistinguishable, even to a native speaker)
Jupp: So these lyrics are kind of weird, right?
Me: Um, yes.


My dad, a metallurgical engineer, is a big fan, and some of it rubbed off on me. Much to the astonishment of my German friends, not only could I sing along to terrible English music, but also to really angry/hard/odd German music. It was awesome.

The next morning, I believe I instigated the next epoch of Germany. I guess that not all aspects of American culture have pervaded everywhere yet, so I did the only decent thing and introduced Jupp to I'm on a Boat and Jizz in my Pants (probably these links are NSFW).

Then, we went on a boat! It was a tour of the Elbe. The Elbe river valley in Dresden was a UNESCO World Heritage site until, um, two days before I got there. The city of Dresden decided that they need to build a huge, ugly bridge in the middle of the most gorgeous and pristine part, and I guess that the critical ugliness (or something) was reached just then, so I missed out.

There was one really neat bridge to be seen along the way, though: it's known locally as the Blue Wonder. It was built before people knew really how to build suspension bridges, so they basically threw it up and crossed their fingers. 150 years later, it still stands!

Tourism fail: At the end of the ride stood another castle. Shocking, I know. But we weren't allowed to get near it. I guess, through fantastically unfortunate planning, I had managed to pick to visit on the one weekend when there was going to be a huge festival and a) everybody and his brother was overloading the tiny town and b) there was an entrance charge to get close to the castle.

Whatever, there're other things to do. Jupp and I decided to wander up the hill at the back of the town to see what we could see, and we found our way to the top of a vineyard--really unusual at Dresden's high latitude. Then it was pretty much time to go, but there was time to stumble across a mini Renaissance faire and do some archery.

Social win (maybe?): Back on the train to head home, I met an intriguing fellow from Belaruse who now lives in San Francisco. He spent 6 hours telling me about ridiculous court cases in San Francisco and how the government isn't run correctly, as well as giving me tips on my upcoming visit to Poland. It was an amusing ride, to say the least.


Sometimes it's hard to
Be pressed for time, but more will
Come if you can wait.

So I know that I've been really bad about posting photos this summer (yes, that is a nod to you, Dresden guys), and it's kind of because I haven't had time, but also because I just... umm... well, mostly because I haven't had time. But I had some time this evening, so I went back and added photos to most of my posts. Well, the ones where it makes sense. As a sidenote, many of the photos were unapologetically stolen from Mathieu and Jeff.

I'll work on writing something up about Dresden in a moment, too. :)


my job, or something

What's in a name? A
Keyword by any other
Name would smell as sweet.

Hard to believe that I've been here for a month. In that time, my research has actually made some progress! (In spite of what it may look like from my blog activity, I have actually been working, you know.) Just yesterday I made the major breakthrough that means that the rest of the summer will tend towards the downhill. My supervisor gave me a pep talk a few days ago about how "research pace picks up towards the end," and I guess that's true.

I have a better idea about what exactly it is that I'm doing now, too, which is, um, good. My supervisor's research is in the area of keyphrase extraction, and I'm doing an extension of that: the technical title of my summer project falls somewhere in the topic of "unsupervised back-of-the-book indexing." Basically, I have to write a programme that is intelligent enough to read a book and decide what words belong in an index for it. This also involves word sense disambiguation (that is, it means that I shouldn't index the word "sausage" separately from the word "bratwurst," but that I should instead realize that the two are related in an "instanceof" way and display something to that effect).

UIMA is an interesting framework. I can't say that I approve of their use of .xml files, but a lot of the ideas that underlie the actual coding seem sound. There are three types of processors: readers (they gather the initial data about a document or a collection of documents), annotators (they parse the document text and overlay markings that indicate whether specific phrases are Named Entities or Noun Phrases or what have you), and consumers (they aren't allowed to add information, but they read it and can output statistics, like the precision and recall of a given run of the annotators). Having an xml file expressly for the purpose of pointing to a java file, though, bothers me a bit.

Anyway, I'm excited to get to the real science of my project. Not much work has been done in this area; Torsten was only successful in finding three papers, and all three were by the same two authors. Csomai and Mihalcea and Valkyrie will be the only ones to have their names on anything. What a strange combination of syllables. :)


wtf, canada?

I guess nothing is
"Cool" enough for Canada,
Since they're, like, frozen.

This article describes a study done recently in Canada that attempted to determine why fewer students are going into Computer Science and related fields. There had been ideas that they were avoiding it because of "parents getting burned from the dot-com crash, or high school counselors warning about [Information and Communications Technology] jobs being outsourced," but apparently the reason is that the jobs aren't "cool" or "fun" enough. Especially during the economic crisis, I have to say that I'm a bit surprised that "high school students place a greater emphasis on the coolness and fun factor of a job, even over job security and salary."

It's sort of like the worst nightmare of groups like Just Be and Women In Computing (at least, that's what they're called at IU, but any groups that try to improve the image of CS/Informatics in order to encourage new applicants) is coming to fruition in the frigid North.

Seriously, Canada?


the nurture of my discontent

Life is good, or so
They say, but a stick and a
Slogan speak volumes.

I'm not sure what it is about Europe, but I guess that they're pretty unhappy about something. It seems like every city in every country that I've visited has brought me to the edge of a protest or demonstration about something, excepting, of course, those neutral Swiss.

With topics ranging widely, protests are everywhere. One thing that I particularly like about the demonstrations was something I discovered during a conversation with Alex (I think, anyway... source attribution error! ack!) wherein he noted that the reason that people were protesting on weekends all the time was because they had to be at work during the week. Way to be fired up there, people.

I wonder what it is, though. In the US, there haven't really been large numbers of protests since, well, Vietnam, probably. I was involved in one protest against the Iraq war a couple September 11ths ago, but I was talking to professors about Dunn meadow, and they said that it is no longer the bustling protest nest that it once was. Maybe we're too complacent, maybe they're too bitchy, but I do think it's nice to see that they're willing to go out on a limb to be heard. I respect that a lot.

A list of all the protests I've seen:
  • Fair treatment of milk cows (Berlin)
  • No more silly taxes, i.e. for-pay public restrooms (Berlin)
  • Some mysterious protest that I never found anything out about, but it closed the damn hauptbanhof (Frankfurt)
  • Riot over a torn Qu'ran (Athens)
  • Bringing murderers to justice (London)
  • Keep public universities tuition-free (Darmstadt)
  • Neo-nazi rally (München)

münchen ado about nothing

History's weight, it
Can crush you if you don't take
Care. See the past now.

Standing at the top of the stairs, just where Hitler stood a few dozen years ago to give a speech to some 20,000 people, at a plaza in München was almost crushing. I know that I've talked about this in a number of posts, but it's incredible to be in places where the wheels of history really turned. I know that we've had a few skirmishes and great men in the New World, but there's nothing that can compare to this. Dachau, the first concentration camp, is about 20 minutes from München. The room from which Hitler ordered the Kristallnacht to be carried out was just off the town square. On the tour we attended, every other building came prefaced with something like, "This is the third one of this building built... the first two were destroyed in..."

There were some pretty frickin neat buildings, though, with neat stories. My favourite story that we were told was about the opera house downtown; its first design included an inverted dome roof for collecting rainwater, and this reservoir was then connected to a series of tubes (the first internet?) that were intended to be a sprinlker system. It was an ingenious system, and it was given a chance to prove itself just a short time after the construction was completed. Fires broke out downstairs, and a worker raced to the proper valve to open it, and... nothing happened. Unfortunately, it was January, and the pool of water in the dome was frozen solid. This meant, unfortunately, that all the water in München would have been frozen, so he had to come up with something else... but what liquid was there going to be in great enough quantities that it might put out a fire?

Oh, beer. He ran a few blocks to the Hofbrauhaus (originally built solely for the Royal Family) and convinced the owner and patrons thereof to form a human chain down the street to the opera house, passing kegs and glasses and any other sort of container that could be found, each filled to the brim with beer.

Strangely enough, despite the fact that many litres of beer seemed to be leaving the Hofbrauhaus, not that much was making it to the other end of the line. The opera house burned down. Alex commented that "that story pretty much sums up humanity." It's a fair point. :) Culture? Let's save it! Well, hmm... beer.

We learned some pretty interesting things about the Hofbrauhaus "back in the day," as well. Originally it was designed only for men, since it would not be seemly for ladies to be intoxicating themselves in public. It was an extremely busy place, so once one got a spot, one certainly would not want to lose it, ne? But consuming alcoholic beverages tends to lead to a powerful need to urinate, so the solution was to put troughs under each table that ran the length of the brauhaus, and each fellow could just open the flap at the front of his lederhosen and let go under the table.

Also back in the day it was (and still is, perhaps) illegal to throw up in the main room of the building, so a "vomitorium" was installed in the men's restroom. Our guide commented that it took him some time to figure out exactly what that curious structure was with a powerful flush and large basin, located too high to be a urinal... Classy.

One of the most famous sights in the city is the Glockenspiel. It was underwhelming, to say the least. I guess it was one of the first things of its kind (although I'm not precisely sure what "its kind" entails), so it's impressive in that respect, but unfortunately it was really, really lame. It only does its famed dance 3 times daily. Before we knew this, we hung around for about 20 minutes to try to see it go off, although I guess when it really went off we weren't much more excited. There are two scenes: one depicts the marriage that essentially created Bavaria, and the other is of cobblers dancing to celebrate the plague's being gone (for the time being). Love and death, what an interesting balance. Too bad it was a poorly-executed one.

We learned a bit about the history of Munich's name and its founding, as well. "München" means "monk" in German, and before it was a city, München was just a collection of monasteries in the middle of Bavaria. Munich is actually the word for monk in Old German, so that's where its English name comes from. Our guide (he was with New Europe Tours, for the record, and really good; they have tours running in several cities, and I was quite impressed with this one) told us tales of some of the kings and dukes of the area, and we felt learnéd.

I guess I didn't even mention who "we" was yet. Part of the purpose of this trip was a reunion of Mathieu, Alex, and Nadège, who had met in the language course in Berlin. Titilayo and I sort of came along to crash their party. ;) Certainly these sorts of trips are more fun with more people, and another girl, Marie, from Sherbrooke (where Mathieu and Nadège go to school) came along the second day, as did a guy named Steven who recently moved into the dorms in Dieburg just down the hall. RISE kids on an adventure. Seriously, though, it was good to see them. I guess I only really knew them from 36 hours or so in Berlin, but in summers like this there's no time to waste on the whole awkward "getting to know you" crap; I learned last summer that all that nonsense can be skipped in favour of having lots of fun together like old friends.

I have to say that I'm a bit jealous of Alex's experiences; he's actually living in the middle of a small town in Germany and is surrounded by the language all the time, while I'm in a sad little bubble of English. :( I did just find out that there's a free German course offered by TUD, and I'm pretty surely going to look into it.

Oh, the trips to and from Munich were quite intriguing in themselves. Mathieu, Titi, and I all elected to try using a German rideshare website to get there, and Mathieu and I used it on the way back, as well. The man who we rode with to Munich was a really nice, knowledgeable guy from the area (sort of) who had been in Frankfurt for the day doing an interview for a job as a consultant for a law firm. He pointed out some neat sights on the way into town, including the Allianz Arena and the Queen's Plaza (which I can't, for some reason, find any information about... perhaps I'm misrecollecting the name). The people we rode home with were really interesting; I'm pretty certain that they were German hippies. They drove a red VW bus with a kitchen (!?) in the back, and they had just come from a wedding and some kind of seminar about their shared job: occupational therapy. :D

The Autobahn was another experience. I had always assumed that it was just one road that connected, perhaps, the main cities in Germany, but every highway is an Autobahn. No speed limit means that people in nice cars drive fast; Alex mentioned that during his several trips along the A9 he'd watched Ferraris and the like racing the ICEs, which, mind you, go about 300km/h. Next step is driving it myself.

There was, of course, some time spent "enjoying the local culture," but those stories are best told in person. The internet doesn't need to know everything.