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.


mails and males

A nation of the fit
Does more than just code, they know
How to par-t-tay!

So that haiku was awful, but I'm exhausted. Today was the TU Meet n' Move (which is a ridiculous name, I know... but it was in English, and I guess it sounds, er, alluring?), which basically meant that anyone could get free entry to the stadium here and fool around with sports from different countries, including football (aka soccer), disc golf, dodgeball, hopscotch, marathon running, and climbing.

The climbing was totally sweet: Mathieu and I checked it out. I guess it wasn't all climbing... it was more like... an obstacle course suspended between trees? I'm not exactly sure what to say about it, and neither of us had our camera. Anyway, it involved rock walls, log walks, swings to walk between, hanging skateboards, and ziplines. Totally worth it (especially since it was free).

After that was Jugger! There was a different set of guys today, and an entirely different tone. It started with a round of Last Man Standing, which is basically the best excuse there is to hit each other with sticks when there aren't enough people to play a game. Mathieu eventually materialised, though, which led to real play. :P I brought Titi along on Tuesday, and she seemed to have fun with it, but Mathieu really took to it today. I decided that facing the Chain is a pretty decent throwback to being 8 and playing jumprope.

For any of you in Bloomington who are reading, I think that we need to start a Jugger team in same. The guys here have helpfully created a wiki detailing how to play/build weapons/etc. (sadly in German, but theoretically I'll remember it), and it's definitely worth it. Also, please watch Salute of the Jugger before I return if you get the chance. :3 One of the guys today commented that I "shouldn't have any trouble finding 9 others who would be interested, especially since [I'm] a girl."

I also got mail! (hint, hint) It was exciting to get my first package, but I did learn the very important fact that in Germany people do not use FedEx. The nearest FedEx is about an hour from where I live, so Mom had to have them redeliver to my workplace. (Note: if packages are sent in the future, please use the package address on the blog.) I'm really happy to have a charger for my camera again, especially since Mathieu lost his. Yay, photos!

Also, yay, news! I haven't been keeping up with happenings as much as I perhaps should have been, due to the fact that Time and Newsweek don't come to me any longer. But Mom mailed those, too, so they should keep me company on the ride to Munich tomorrow.


they know

Really? A chef hat?
Maybe I'll try that and see
If North's full of crap.

that sound you're hearing is all the nlp researchers who read my comic jumping up from their computers at once and saying "of COURSE!!"


on liberty

Sneak around, or don't,
But you'll be on camera.
Famous? Maybe. *shrug*

London has a very interesting blend of perspectives on liberty. I can't say that I've ever been in a city where I'm followed on CCTV cameras essentially everywhere I go, but neither have I ever been in a country (well, continent, maybe) where things like naked bike rides and Shakespearean-age sex jokes are permitted. I guess I have a few thoughts on both of these things.

The fact that I'm being watched all the time is mystifying. Who's watching the tapes? Is it actually live to them? I've seen in movies some uses of the London CCTV setup (the Bourne movies, for instance), but I've never actually heard of it in real life. Still, cameras were perched everywhere: beneath stoplights, in deserted corners, at the entrances to public toilets... Does the English government know where I am? I know that my government knows; ever since they elected to start putting RFID tags in passports (and I got a passport), they know. Gah! It seems that the only person who doesn't always know where I am is my mother!

I can see exactly where writers like Alan Moore (V for Vendetta) and Eric Blair (aka George Orwell, 1984) got their ideas from. Going through the Tube was frequently a navigational nightmare due to "planned engineering works," a phrase whose spirit rang through V for Vendetta's "planned demolition with celebratory fireworks." On the way back from Greenwich on the DLR, the whole DLR system was stopped mysteriously. Sara (one of Jeff's friends, surprise, surprise) and I were speculating about what might have happened, and there were no announcements except that the DLR was to be closed for planned maintenance. We were in the middle of two stations when it stopped.

Still, these oddities are mixed with liberations in other senses. Like I said, Romeo and Juliet is one of the raunchiest plays out there, and the actors were not shy about flaunting it. Neither were the performers in A Little Night Music. I suspect that in order to sell tickets to this latter show in the states, some form of ID may have been required. The elderly woman who drove the plotline kept the pace up with her reminiscences of lovers won and lost and played, and there were a few racy scenes featuring housemaids and butlers. It was a story of what the world is, and the U.S. couldn't accept it, I don't think.

Strange that in North America we are so accepting of violence and repressive of sex. Here is entirely the opposite. From what I can see, this system works for them. I guess that's what I get for being born on a continent settled by Puritans. *sigh*

so long and thanks for all the fish (and chips)

The motherland! Home!
Awash in my own language!
But, still, adventure.

London! It evokes all sorts of images: bad teeth, the Union Jack, afternoon tea, Big Ben, Her Majesty the Queen... but I found out that it was lots more. First, a summary of events!

Mathieu and I elected to sleep in Frankfurt Hahn, a tiny airport that's actually about 2 hours from Frankfurt, the night before we left. Our flight was at 06:00, and no shuttles run that early (surprise!). So we got to London on Ryanair, a brilliantly cheap airline which had given us our tickets (roundtrip) for a mere 2 euro. It was humourously cheap, too. There weren't stealable emergency guides in the seatback pockets because, in fact, there were no seatback pockets. Instead there were some poorly-illustrated guides on the backs of the seats ahead. None of the seats reclined, and even in-flight beverages weren't complimentary. Upon landing in Stansted (one of the three or four London airports), we were regaled with a trumpet and an announcement that, "Congratulations! You've just landed..." (I thought it was going to conclude here; Ryanair is famously bad) "on time with Ryanair, the only airline with more than 90% of its flights landing on time!" Well, that's a little better. :)

We blew through customs (and got passport stamps! huzzah!) in the UK, then picked up our rental car and headed out to find Jeff. He was supposed to meet us at the Cockfosters station for the Tube. Ingeniously, neither of us had acquired directions to this particular location, and so we stumbled around, looking for it. I have to say that riding in the wrong side of a car on the wrong side of the road was quite a thrill, and reading British signage ("Give Way" == "Yield") contributed to my general amusement.

When we did finally find Jeff, we headed to Oxford, that ages-old flagship school of the learned. I learned some about it, actually; I never realized that it is actually made up of 39 colleges, each of which is redundant with the others? Seems like kind of a terrible system to me, but I guess it's working for them. We saw the part of campus where bits of Harry Potter were filmed, which was appropriately touristy, and we explored some local fooderies and breweries (I had a steak and kidney pie and a Pimm's, and both were tasty) with a friend of Jeff's who is working on her PhD there. Then it was my turn to drive, and we headed for Stonehenge.

Everyone I've talked to says Stonehenge is a huge rip-off. It's true that it's out in the middle of nowhere (about 1.5 hours from the edge of London... *sigh*), and that it's 7 pound or so to get in (and a pound is about the same as a euro at the moment... 1.5 dollars-ish), but seeing those oddly-arranged rocks under a spookily overcast sky was pretty awesome nonetheless. Jeff and I took a photo as behooded druids, which will probably find its way into my culturally insensitive images album. :P

We took the car to the drop-off point near Heathrow (the big airport in London, and basically the closest spot to Stonehenge) and left it. Unfortunately, we also left Mathieu's camera in it, and no sign has been found. :-/ So I guess it's up to me to document the rest of the summer. Well, me or Titi. She'll probably do a better job. ;) Then it was a 3-hour frenzy of switching trains over and over and backtracking and "mind the gap"ing to get to High Gate. Favourite quote? The train's constant reminders that "Mind the gap between the train and the platform. This is a Picadilly Line train to Cockfoster's."

LinkWe met some more of Jeff's friends (jeez, he has a lot, doesn't he?) in London to have, um, Thai food. But it was good, and they were a fun bunch. One among them was Ken, whom I mentioned in the post on Greece. He helped me out with my accent, hahaha.

The next day began early,
and also with a strange meeting. At King's Cross, one of the largest Tube stations in one of the largest metro systems in the world, I ran into a friend from school: Chris Impicciche. That was interesting. He's studying in London for a few weeks this summer, and I knew he was coming this weekend, but I had no idea that I'd actually see him. Ah, serendipity.

From there, a trip through Trafalgar Square to meet another of Jeff's friends near Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament (including the famed, but somewhat smaller than expected, Big Ben) and get tickets to ride the London Eye. During our flight we saw a neat flyover of the city for the Queen's birthda
y: fighter jets streaming white, blue, and red smoke. We were then due to pick up bikes to participate in the World Naked Bicycle Ride (London's ride is the largest in the world), but the timing was off and they were overbooked. Oof!

So instead we headed to Greenwich, home of Time. I stood at the Prime Meridian and was subjected to videos about what exactly that meant. It was a little bit tragic, but I'm glad that I saw it.

Oh, then what... fish and chips! That veritable bastion of English cuisine. Delicious with vinegar and salt (both the fish and the chips).

A rush back to London to Leicester (pronounced "Lester") Square to see a show on London's West End. The show that we saw was A Little Night Music, and it was brilliant! I was amazed by the acting and the story, which led to a very enjoyable evening.

That night, we met up with one of my friends (whom Jeff also knows...argh) for dinner at a local place. I tried bangers and mash for dinner with a pint of London Pride ale. We retired with the thought of waking up early again the next morning.

First thing was to see the Tower of London (where one souvenir available was a very classy paper sort of build-it-yourself guillotine) and the Tower Bridge. They were both quite imposing! As Jeff said: I wouldn't want to attack that.

More wandering brought us back past Westminster Abbey, and we found ou
r way to Buckingham Palace. I didn't think it was that impressive, actually. Just... really big. The architecture was nowhere near as fine as that of the Abbey, nor Big Ben. Hrm. Green Park (around the palace) was also nice.

Next: Picadilly Circus ("circus" just means "square", basically) and Oxford Circus, and a pasty for lunch. Pasties are deeeeelllllliiiiiiicccccciiiiiioooooouuuuussssssss. A stop at the British Museum (where I got to see the front of the Parthenon, something I'd been robbed of during my trip to Greece; the Rosetta Stone; and some sweet Viking stuff). It's fantastic that the museums in the city have been "free to the world since 1753" (well, that one, anyway). We had afternoon tea at the National Geographic store, which was awesomely tasty.

Finally it was time to head to Shakespeare's Globe to see Romeo and Juliet peasant-style: standing in the yard in front of the stage. It was only 5 pound for the ticket, and it was totally worth it. The acting was fantastic, and the atmosphere was... well... I'm sure you can guess what it feels like to see a Shakespearean play at the Globe. If you can't, just think about what it might feel like to get slapped with 150kg of CULTURE.

Delicious Greek food for dinner wrapped up the evening, and we had an exhilarating run down 4 flights of escalators in London Bridge station to catch the last train home. This morning, an early (4am) awakening and some traveling mishaps (delayed flights, weather-induced airport closings, missed shuttles, you name it) eventually did lead us back to Darmstadt.

And now, work. Later I'll post some stuff about general impressions of London. They have a strange Big Brother complex going on, and I was fascinated by their totally unadvertised lack of sexual inhibition.


baby talk

Bitte, bitte! Want!
In any language, it's cake
To communicate.

In case hearing Deutsch spoken on buses and in lunchlines and seeing it printed on signs isn't enough, I have been exposed to the extreme pleasure of hearing Deutsch baby talk. Mathieu and I walked past a mother and her son, and he was bouncing impatiently, "Bitte, bitte, bitte!" I think that most readers will easily parse this as, "Please, please, please!", but even if you didn't know what the Deutsch means, it wouldn't be so tough to discern. Context clues are becoming my best friend here in Deutschland. I don't know a lot of the language, but I've dabbled in enough romance languages that it's not awful to read or hear, as long as I can parse the words apart and see the speaker.

I've been thinking a lot about language since I started working at the UKP (Ubiquitous Knowledge Processing) Lab at TUD (Technische Universität Darmstadt). Probably this is good, since it's what my project involves. :) My task is to parse through books, papers, articles, whatever and pick out the terms that would be important enough to be included as index entries in the back of the book. Culling that sort of information sounds trivial, but computers sometimes have a tough time with semantics. Anyway, if you have any suggestions on things that might make a term index-worthy, don't hesitate to comment.

I feel like I'm going to stumble out of the summer with my language skills severely stunted, though. I'm the only native English speaker in the UKP (I proofed a paper recently based on this qualification :P), and hearing Mathieu's dubious grammar and Titi's non-American accent are warping my tongue for the... well, maybe not worse, but certainly different. It's also a bit harder to flex my vocabulaic muscles (use of that non-word in this sentence strikes me as particularly ironic) when I have to explain a lot of the nonstandard terms that I use. It's hard to explain differences in the senses of words... I'm trying to think of a suitable example, but coming up blank at the moment. :-/ Chatting with my native-English-speaking friends isn't always a booster, either; chatspeak is notoriously bereft of grammatical correctness, and the strange semi-English ("have a day. preferably good.") that Evan and I speak in is exceptionally impoverished thereof.

So you probably should avoid mocking me for poor grammar after this summer ends. When one travels between countries that speak the same language but can't understand each other (Swiss German, Austrian German, and High German are pretty vastly different, apparently), without a bubble of one's own, well-constructed language, it seems reasonable. Maybe I'll resurrect a rule or two during my trip to London this weekend.

Still, I'm having a blast. Life is well.


carry on dancing

The Blue Danube Waltz,
The city of Strauss, a night
Of old melody.


I'm pretty sure that this is my new favourite city: it was full of gorgeous things everywhere. It was also comparatively much cleaner than places I've found myself on other weekends... Athens, for instance.

Okay, how did we start... we got in to Wien at about 08:00 on Saturday, then tried to check into our hostel. Yours truly had, in some kind of inconvenient date-telling time warp, booked the room for the following (i.e. wrong) night... so we asked very nicely about a room for the correct one. It was only 4euro more, and we got a private room instead of a dorm. The hostel was super nice, though: it was half hostel and half hotel (the Do Step Inn, in case you ever find yourself in Wien), and it was really clean, it included towels and linens, it had nice kitchen facilities and free internet. Not to mention that it was located right next to the Westbanhof in Wien, which is their big, international train station.

Anyway, we got a room and headed off to explore. Wien has a CityBike programme wherein one need only register for 1euro in order to use any of the bikes (located outside of every U-bahn (subway) station) for up to one hour, free of charge. After an hour, return the bike for 15 minutes and take another free hour! What a deal. :D So we did this to take a trip down to the Schönbrunn Palace and gardens, and the oldest zoo in the world. The gardens were massive... it took us 4 hours to get around what we saw, and what we saw was far less than half of what there was. One of the most ridiculously impressive bits of the park was the Gloriette, which sat atop a hill. From a distance, it looked like the Brandenburger Tor (see post on Berlin), but it was much farther away than we could have guessed. The scale of the thing!

More bike riding through gorgeous, old areas of the city followed. We saw the Hofburg, which was the "winter residence" of the Habsburg dynasty. It was awesome. And now the streets by it are lined with, predictably, stores like BVLGARI and Giorgio Armani. Oh, and shops for tourist junk. :)

There happened to be a market in a parking lot that we passed, so I picked up a nice party top. Probably not anywhere close to as fancy as something I'd need to get into a Viennese ball, but those are in the winter, anyway.

The next stop of note was the Republic of Kugelmugel. It is essentially a crazy man's own private nation. He started printing stamps of his own (infuriated by taxation) and was arrested, but instead of being thrown in prison he was pardoned by the President and permitted to set up his own republic in the middle of... an amusement park. Too bad he didn't seem to be around when we stopped by; I'd've bought a stamp for sure.

We ate some Wiener (in English: Viennese) cuisine: Wiener schnitzel! Haha. I guess schnitzel can be made from any meat (much to my relief), so I tried some made with chicken. And Austrian beer is pretty tasty, too.

We went out for the night with a group of other travelers from everywhere. There were some from Australia, some from Mexico, the US, Austria, and even Canada (this guy was particularly hilarious in his stereotypical lumberjack-plaid shirt and furry beard). They were a lot of fun.

The next day brought us to the Zentralfriedhof, where Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven, Brahms, and other famous composers are buried. There are also sections of old Wiener presidents/rulers (one was labeled as a Burgermeister, which made me think fondly of one of my favourite movies), Buddhist philosophers, and a Jewish section. It was interesting how well-manicured most of the Friedhof was... excepting the aforementioned Jewish section. It was sadly overgrown. :( Probably this had something to do with the massive Catholic church in the centre.

Also we made a stop at the Blue Danube of song to take a look at the Danube Tower, and we were shocked to see a rescue of a drowing person during our brief visit there. A guy jumped into the river and was pulled under; under a minute later, there were firetrucks, police cars, a rescue helicopter, and scuba rescue teams to find him. I'd never seen scuba rescue teams. It was kind of scary... but they did find the kid and pull him out. I hope he's okay. A few seconds of decision can make a big impact.

Then... well, there was nothing else in particular that we wanted to see in Wien, so we took a brief trip to... Bratislava. That's in Slovakia, and under an hour from Wien. The language there is Czech, which is a far cry from anything I can speak (or even pronounce). Hardly anyone spoke any English, and they didn't seem to be accustomed to tourists. It wasn't as bad as it looked to be in Eurotrip (45 cents couldn't buy us a palace... *sigh*), but I did learn why we are kindly asked by some rail lines to refrain from using the WC while in the station. They didn't make any effort to disguise the fact that it simply, um, opens onto the tracks.

So that was the weekend. Well, that and another overnight train trip to make it back to Darmstadt just in time to get to work during which we were awakened by the Polizei for a passport check because Mathieu looked like a felon they were searching for. He had encountered a swastika charm on the train back from Bratislava, which he had fortunately dropped sometime in the interim. I wonder what would have happened if they'd found it on him...



on rails

Shined by the weight of
Endless hurries and dreams, reach
For infinity.

I never realized how terribly poetic train tracks are. On the train ride to Wien, I paused for some time at sunset, distracted by the view out the back window. As we raced away from Nowhere, heading for the next bend in the tracks, the rails stretched out, rust worn away by the friction of endless passings by endless passengers: the English teacher going to visit his school friends for the weekend, the old woman on her way to see her even older mother in the hospital, the businessman rushing to finish a presntation before he arrives, the university students en route to whatever it is that awaits them nowhere in particular.

It's easier to appreciate a trip when there aren't responsibilities. Straight through from Frankfurt to Wien on a EuroNight train, no changes to worry about, no highways, insurance or directions, nothing to do but appreciate scenery and conversation, and, once the world inside and outside goes to sleep, to appreciate sparser and sparser dots of light on dark hills and the peaceful silence of one's own thoughts.

Learning to travel is a process that forks and forks, but I don't think that it ever terminates. It runs in the background on every trip, taking input from any experience that arises. It is certainly recognizable, though, as it chugs along: I can see the fresh look on Teetee's face when Mathieu and I speculate on whether our not our hostel will have bedsheets. "I am never telling my mother this," she affirms.

As I packed my bread into my backpack this afternoon, I wondered where I could have been today. But I realized that it doesn't matter. I found CS and am cultivating an admittedly still-nascent sense of adventure. I'm helping wear the rust off the tracks.



How can you be in
A place, and not know it? I
Guess it happens a lot.

So I had tried out Wolfram|Alpha before, and I thought it was okay, then. But today I tried a new search, and it was a fail. I guess this goes to show that you can be a place your whole life (hey, the Internet is a place) and never really come to know it.

Strangely, this makes me think of how people travel. They always seem to think that their own home is dull, but other places are terribly exotic. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to travel around the U.S. before embarking on greater adventures, but I have to say that the idea of "Europe" is programmed to be exciting in my brain. Yet they all come to the States to see our parks...

on language

Watching the world go
By, in seven diff'rent lan-
guages. Blurs of sound.

As you may be aware, English is not spoken everywhere. It's awesome to have a native French speaker on my team for traveling in places like, um, France and French Switzerland. It's amusing how language differs from place to place, though. I recognize it in the States, I guess, with how Southern people are notably southern and people from the UK are clearly not North American, but Mathieu had some more serious dialect/accent issues.

So I was informed that people from France "love Québécois." It seemed true, too; every person we met in Geneva who was from France got excited to talk to him. Every person from French Switzerland, though, thought he was a native English speaker who was butchering French, and they insisted on speaking with him in English, much to his dismay/chagrin/ire.

He and I had a conversation about language, too. What makes one good? He proposes a universal language with a simple construction, no irregulars, and no ambiguity. As a scientist, I guess I see that this is a logical thing to do. It's completely infeasible, but theoretically sound. However, as an ex-aspiring writer, I shudder at the thought of a language I can't play with. I had a minor outburst at his "no ambiguity." It removes the poetry of the language, I said. But what do you need ambiguity for, he asked, other than bad, deceptive things?

Honestly, I didn't know what to answer. What do you think?



I feel like Heidi,
Cloud shadows pass over cows,
Wildflowers, and peace.

The Alps! I don't know how much I'll achieve by trying to describe this weekends experiences in Switzerland and France, but we'll give it the old college try.

Friday began our travels: Mathieu and I were thwarted in our attempts to procure hiking shoes for him (a failure which would come back to haunt, um, him), so we headed to the Hauptbanhof in Darmstadt and hopped on a train bound for Basel, Switzerland. I had been intrigued by the prospect of standing in three countries at the same time, but, unfortunately, the border is in the middle of the intersection of two rivers. :( It didn't matter so much that, day, though, since it was about 23:00 when we got there, and nothing was visible. We found a hostel (thanks to the help of a random guy from Peru) and spent some time determining our awesome for the next day.

Exploring Basel was pretty cool; it's been the haunt of lots of famous people over the years. There's an Euler bar and hotel there, but it was sadly way out of my and Mathieu's price range. Holy hell was Switzerland expensive! But that's a different story. Anyway, the "sights" of Basel included a skeleton cathedral, a fountain with crazy robots in it, a marketplace, and a really sweet town hall.

That, of course, wasn't the highlight of the day. We took a series of confusing trains and buses to Langenbruck Post, where we again had some confusion relating to where to go. We asked a local woman, and her response was that she didn't know where the beginning of the trail was, but to get to where the end was, just "turn right, turn left, go over the mountain, and you're there."

And it was thus. We found the trailhead. The first hour was standard hiking, which was a huge disappointment. We munched bread and cheese (Swiss cheese, naturally) and a bit of chocolate (also Swiss... mmm...) and were bored by trees. There were no spectacular views, or even views at all, really. Finally, at some point we emerged onto the mountaintop, and it felt suddenly like the Alps.

Our first view was of a field of wildflowers containing nothing but a house. Beyond it were fields of grass rippling in the wind, a couple houses, and a windmill that was obviously powering them. There were cows roaming in some fields, and mountains rolling away as far as we could see. I was happy that I'd braided my hair into pigtails; as I mentioned, everything you may have read in Heidi is true.

Further wanderings took us over ridges and through cow fields, and eventually we found ourselves at a gorgeous panorama of tiny villages and more (vomitously picturesque) rolling green hills. I yodeled.

There was a cow that I tried to pet, but it licked my hand, and I laughed. It scampered away, wide-eyed and afraid. A horse later on gratefully took an apple and a pat on the nose from me. Breathing the absurdly fresh air was almost as refreshing as drinking water (which was fortunate because we were sadly undersupplied in that department).

Communication on the hike was hard: we only saw a couple people, but they didn't speak English or French, and their German was as broken as our own. Through the miracles of maps and pointing, we managed to get to Geneva the second night, where we spent some memorable time taking turns sleeping in front of a clothing store (by the time we arrived, it would have been impossible to find a hostel for the night). I learned how to greet people by kissing cheeks thanks to a random drunk Swiss fellow.

We saw CERN (where the LHC is), the original UN building, a park full of giant chess boards (knights above your knees!), a cathedral where John Calvin preached, the largest fountain in Europe, their semi-famous floral clock, and a restaurant that served delicious Swiss fondue. One neat thing about Geneva is that there are fountains everywhere spouting potable water. Delicious!

The final day saw us waking up too early, eating a delicious breakfast at our hostel, and training off to Lausanne to see Castle Chillon. It's on an island in the middle of a lake in the mountains, and it's ancient and gorgeous. I probably want a castle when I grow up. :D