Life is a Rabbit Pellet

Ramblings of a Zimbrindian's travels, life, and research.

Sunday, July 31, 2005


Yesterday Sat and Meg invited some of us over for dinner. It was fun, and we finally finished at 2am. Most of what happened cannot be put into print, mostly because I can't remember it. (Otoh, some of it was confidential academic gossip, and therefore wouldn't be written down even if my memory wasn't colanderous.)

A: How does the process for submissions work?
B: It consists of C asking D to submit something, and D asking when, and C giving an artificial deadline which he then promptly and unerringly forgets.

(I won't write down what this is the submission process for.)

I can remember some of the things that were said that we thought were funny at the time. This clearly had more to do with delivery, inebriation, and sleep deprivation, than any genuine humor.

Somehow we got onto the topic of things with India-induced names, like the Indian Ocean (which is now called the Sri-Lankan-Madagascaran Ocean, or Slama Ocean for short). I said that "...the Windies have nothing to do with India. They were originally called the Westward Independent Islands, which then got contracted to the Windies."

I then buried his face in my glass of rioja. Everyone around the table was taken aback, with internal thoughts of "I didn't know that" and "That' a lot of absolute tosh" fighting for attention. Finally Jez said "Is that true?" If he hadn't said it, Meg would have done so 0.5 seconds later.

My nose was still in the glass of rioja.

"No." I gurgled.

We moved on.

Var had, somehow, come up with the idea of what would happen if the entire population of India pissed on Tuebingen. This had led to general eye-rolling, till she produced some numbers.

Var: Fine, suppose a billion people let off a half-litre of pee each, over an area of 50 square kilometres.
Me: Sounds like serious pissipation here. (Cackles, complaints, apologies, all follow.)
Var: Come on! Half a billion litres, over 50 million square meters!
Me: You want us to do math without a computer?
Meg: There's a thousand litres in a cubic metre.
Var: So it's 0.5 million cubic metres over 50 million square meters.

Of course, this amount of piss would cover Tuebingen to a height of 0.01 metres. Except that yesterday night, our collective minds had decided that it wasn't a centimeter, but a whole meter. Footage from the floods in Mumbai was fresh in our minds. Soon, the Rhine, into which Tuebingen's Neckar dumps its runoff, was called the Urhine.

Sadly, this was actually well received.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Percussive Maintenance

I learnt a new phrase from Jez today, at the vending machine. It had gotten stuck. "Usually anything can be fixed by banging it a few times", he said as he did so, "and even if it doesn't, it increases the probability that the maintenance people will have to fix it soon. It's called percussive maintenance".

Sat's been having some trouble at his university in India, where the authorities had suddenly discovered that he owed them a tiny amount, which they hadn't told him about in four years and now wanted back (with a fine) before allowing him to graduate. "You just paid it, right?" I asked him. "Yeah," he said, "In India it doesn't pay to complain".

Of course, I had to say something to that.

"In Zimbabwe, the problem is usually finding someone to complain to."

Monday, July 25, 2005

Got stuff done today

I wish all days were as productive as this. I walked downtown just after lunch at 1300... it was drizzling all the way, and my 1 euro umbrella was demonstrating its value for money...

  1. went to my local bank (Volksbank) to figure out how much money was in my account as I thought I was being underpaid by the MPI (and yes, I was)
  2. bought some salami, cheese und bread on the way at the market (unplanned, but it's good pancetta)
  3. bought a ticket to Amsterdam for 44 euros - summer special - and I can use the fast trains! I'd been unable to buy this online either - all the tickets I could find there were over 100 euros - this gets me there a day early, but I think Bernie - whom I'm staying with there - won't be too upset
  4. went to the local branch of Citibank to verify that I couldn't transfer money to my account in Chicago
  5. Went to another nearby branch of Volksbank to transfer the money - it should take a week, and will hopefully get to Chicago in time to pay for the deposit on my new apartment
  6. Caught a bus to the MPI to get to Florian's seminar at 1500. The bell for the seminar was just going off as I walked up the steps. Perfect timing, nicht?
  7. Went to the payroll department, who promptly verified that, yes, there was a mistake with my salary - and I should get a few hundred euro in my bank account tomorrow - which I can then transfer back to Chicago for my first month's rent.

Thank you, Nick Hornby, for writing High Fidelity, which got me out of my emotional rut and back into life. (Hopefully this effect will last at least three days.) It made me get in touch with a couple of old friends who I really shouldn't have got out of touch with. I just phoned one of them - and it turns out she's actually passing through Karlsruhe in a month! Wow. Her brother works there. Nice timing.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Romany Holocaust Museum (Heidelberg, Part II)

Heidelberg Part 1

As I was walking from the Castle, I saw a building for the Sinti und Roma Holocaust Museum. I knew that it wasn't just Jews who died in the holocaust, but also the Romany - i.e. gypsies, though I learnt here that they don't like to be called that - but hadn't seen anything on this other than a couple of lines in history books. I looked at my watch, shrugged, and went in.

There was an old lady there. She looked at me skeptically. (It was shortly after this that I decided to buy new shoes. I was wearing my last serviceable pair of shoes. The hole in the right one has been there for a year now.) "I should warn you," she said, "that the tour will take two hours if you listen to it in full". Maybe she figured from my Chicago t-shirt that I lived in the US, and had an American attention span. Or she knew that Indians had shorter attention spans. In any case, she was right, as I hadn't thought of staying more than half an hour.

"I'll listen to a lot of it", I said. "I'll be here an hour."

Mollified somewhat - "nice but firm" is a good way of describing her - kinda like many New Yorkers and certain mothers - she gave me an English audio guide (all the exhibit text is in Deutsch), and showed me how to use it.

It's a very well-designed exhibit, going through two floors of the building. I should have taken more photographs. I listened to about three-quarters of it, and stayed 90 minutes.

Family photographs of some of the Romany deported to Auschwitz

Romany children in their last summer.

Sinti is what the Romany are called in Germany, Roma what they are called in some other central European countries. They are really several groups of them, but most (all?) have their origins in India - linguistically, Romany has roots in Sanskrit. I knew that before, but what really brought it home was seeing that half the people in the photographs had ethnically Indian features. That, I have to admit, made it more personal for me. I'm not fond of being part of the Indian diaspora (I wouldn't mind being one or the other, but both...) but somehow it's different when considering people far higher on the diasporan scale than you.

The word "killed" is also rarely used, if ever. It's always "murdered". This is good. "Killed" somehow implies a lack of responsibility by the cause of death, e.g. "killed by the tsunami". "Murdered" means a crime.

There is an understandable sense in the exhibit of "hey, it wasn't just Jews who were killed - so were we". Like comments by Nazi officials that no distinction was made between Romany and Jews, and that the aim was the extermination of the entire race.

Half a million Romany were killed across Europe.

Names of thousands of the dead.

When I finished the exhibit, I talked to the old woman at the front desk. I had been the only visitor in the museum at the time (bar an old friend of hers who came in to see what I was doing about 20 minutes after I'd started - he must have reported to her that I was going through it very slowly) and asked if there were normally more people here. She said more people came in in the afternoons, and during the week, when there were schoolgroups.

It's a good, simple museum - more people should come here.

Link to the Sinti und Roma Museum: German, English. (The English site isn't as up-to-date as the German site yet.)


The first thing you see as you get out of the train station.

I visited Heidelberg yesterday. As happened on a Saturday six weeks ago, I missed meeting the people I was going to visit the town with. Except this time the missed people lived in Heidelberg, so by the time I missed them, I was already there. (They've been having email trouble, so I think the last two emails before I sent, which had my cellphone number amongst other things, never got there.

So I did what I usually do, which is explore by myself. I got a Heidelberg card, and went to the castle.

In the Schloss they have a museum - a strange one to have in that location - for the history of German pharmacy. There are some interesting exhibits:

Preserved newts, in the German Pharmacy Museum in Heidelberg castle
Preserved newts. These were meant to be dipped in chocolate, a la Spirited Away. (Another cartoon that I was too scared to watch in full, the other one being Finding Nemo.)

Human Skull with wig
Cranium Humanum (with wig)

I did the touristy thing, which is take lots and lots of photographs.

Heidelberg through one of the windows in the castle wallsThe castle is so old that all the glass in the windows has fallen off or been stolen. Here's a look through one of the open windows.

Guards. Lions.
Guards. Lions.

Guard, closeup
Trying to get a better upskirt look at one of the guards.

castle renovationsDue to the increasing number of tourists, authorities are now building a parking lot in the middle of the castle.

Statue of king with small copper coated sceptreStatue of king with ice lolly.

I left the castle. The tourist office told me I could go up for free (since I had a Heidelberg card) with a ski-lift to a higher place with an even nicer view, but when I tried, I could only find machines that sold tickets, and no official around who could give me a free ticket because I had a Heidelberg card. I figured I didn't really care, so I left the castle, and went downtown again.

The first thing I saw was the Romany Holocaust Museum (that's not its official name, but is what it is), which I've posted about separately.

After seeing the Karzer (where I took pictures too poor to post, even by my standards), I saw the German Packaging Museum, which mostly seemed a tribute to a German pencil manufacturer (Schwan-Stabilo) that I'd never heard of but is apparently quite famous. It invented the pencil with white lines on hexagonal edges (a manufacturing error that they were very worried about before they realized it was a valuable branding technique) and the edged highlighter (whose shape came from a frustrated designer thumping the putty he was designing the new nib with).

It's a tiny museum, and for some reason they were busy preparing for a wedding reception in it later that day (even the woman at the desk didn't know why the wedding couple had made this choice - neither of them worked there), but had some interesting non-pencil related exhibits.

Shop window, circa 1900. Click on it to enlarge, and you'll see the cans of Maggi soup!

Colgate through the ages

Thursday, July 21, 2005

On the anniversary of the landing (of me on earth)

After some pressure from friends, I posted a message to the local department this morning. I'd been not wanting to post this for days.

To celebrate (a) the 36th anniversary of the first moon landing, (b) nothing in particular, (c) Thursday, (d) my birthday, (e) the existence of beer, some of us are going to the BierKeller at 8pm today. Feel free to join us!

More people have wished me a HB today than in the last three years combined. They must take birthdays seriously around here. Perhaps I should as well.

Only a couple of extra people showed up in the end, which was what I'd hoped for. (Well, we had a venue change, and I hope no-one came to the old venue and didn't see the note we'd left there.) Had a few drinks and chatted and chuckled and came back and worked.

At one point everyone was describing how the places they came from were really bad. We were usually making things up, but Magda had a really good one, describing how there were lots of shortages in Poland in the early 1980s, and how they happened to live near the paper factory/shop and would have someone at the window looking out waiting to see if the bogroll shipment was in - and when it came in, mothers would run out, with all the little kiddies in tow (the quota was per human, not per adult) to buy as many as possible.

Anyway, Meg asked Magda why there was a shortage of toilet paper in Poland at that time. We never did find out the answer to that one, because Art interjected the suggestion "Bad Polish food?", which caused everyone to go into hysterics. By the time we'd recovered, the subject was vegetarian crocodiles or something like that.


Gerhard Reitmayr of Cambridge (the original one) and his colleagues Ethan Eade and Tom Drummond have come up with a nice way to augment maps. Nice techie details ...

Now here's a product one hopes will become common at internet cafes everywhere (yeah right) A keyboard that has additional keys that change the key layout. Errmm... you say, wot's new with that? That's just software, right? Nope. The whole frickin' keyboard changes. (I really ought to get back to being a regular /.er - I was two days behind on this one.) They have a nice FAQ too. Though they don't say, when they say it will cost less than a cellphone, which cellphone.

If I had any iota of determination, I'd become a regular here.

Truth in advertising

Peter Day has written a nice piece about dirty advertising. Hang on, let me say that again. It's a column on advertisements for washing up powder. It meanders about a bit, and then gets to the interesting part, about how the ad became far more successful in East Germany once it promised less.

Persil's the current advertising stressed its pre-eminence : the whitest wash in the world.

"East German housewives don't want that," said Mr Mackat [of an Ossie market research agency]. "They just want decently clean clothes."

The pan-German Persil ads showed a German hausfrau at work, beautifully turned out and glowing with health. In the background was her spacious home, shining with the latest gadgets.

"East German women can't identify with that sort of thing," said Frisch and Mackat.

They took the hausfrau and the bungalow out of the ads, and toned down the world beating claims. The ad they unveiled for the Ossies said something modest such as "Best for coloureds". And it worked.

By the way, Ossie and Wessie refer to Germans from (the former) East and West Germany.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Cycling, funny obituaries, and ergonomics

Getting back into the hang of writing C++ code. Slowly. Sure wishing I had my copy of Stroustrup's 3rd edition around.

Cycled downtown today at 1800 to verify that the bank does indeed close at 1630, and that the local library needs to see my passport to join it (I hadn't planned to stop there, so I'd left my passport at home). Spent 15 minutes there reading a Grisham. Would have been longer, but they were closing. They've got a very small (under 200 books) but decent collection of English books. I'm still going through Arthur's box of books though. He also suggested, when he found I liked Rob Rankin and Terry P, that I ask Jeremy for some books of Steven Aylett. There, I've written that name down before I forget it.

I then pushed my bike up the hill, as usual. Finally investigated that shortcut by the forest. Doesn't save much time. Costs lives, though. Of slugs. (Cause of death: wheel-related, not shoe-related. I hope. I've been avoiding looking at my soles of late.)

I'll have to be careful cycling once I'm back in Chicago. Apparently the cops are cracking down on cyclists like me who believe in flexible rules.

Meanwhile, I hadn't heard about the interesting obituary notice of D.G.Cully, 86. Here's a phrase that wouldn't be out of place in an Aylett novel (there, I said it twice. Now I can't forget the name.), let alone in an obit, particularly when it's not that of the person named.

Unable to actually prove this complex theory scientifically, and frustrated by the cruel conspiracy of the so-called "scientific community" working against his efforts, he ultimately stuck his head in a heated gas oven with a golden delicious apple propped in his mouth. Miraculously, the apple was saved for the evening dessert. Calvin was not.

In the middle of another story (and I don't understand what the problem with men wearing shorts to work is), Jan Wong mentions an interesting fact:

You'd think worker bees would get more sluggish when temperatures rise. But according to a 2004 study by Cornell University, warmer temperatures actually increase productivity. When the office temperature was cranked from 20 C to 25, typing errors dropped 44 per cent and overall typing output rose 150 per cent, according to the study by Cornell professor Alan Hedge.

So when it's a nice, civilized temperature we type faster and make more mistakes? Well, the only way to find out is by reading Professor Hedge's articles. And, I have to say, he has a mighty interesting publication record. I really would like to read about the "Effect of providing foot support on lower leg temperature for sedentary workers." (Proc.Hum.Fac.Ergo.Soc.'03). I'm not being sarcastic. I'm a geek - I really would like to read that. And this is when I start cursing, because none of these papers are online. When are people (outside cs/math/phy/astro) going to make it a habit of putting all their papers online? (You can get around journal copyright restrictions by publishing drafts, or better, publishing in modern journals that leave copyright with the authors.)

Introduced one of my officemates to AIR. He's not got much work done today.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


In Volume 11.4 of the Annals of Improbable Research is the superb article on
Sluggish Data Transport by Ami Ben-Bassat et al.

To the right is a snapshot from their paper. Note the mobile data storage backend, the organically engineered frontend, and the LGS (Lettuce-based Guidance Subsystem). And yes, their numbers, showing that the average number of bits moved by l'escargot per second is higher than broadband, are flawless.

Monday, July 18, 2005

darn rz

Just when I thought I had the Partiview angles all figured out, I find that I can't just set Rz to a constant.

Here are some values I know are correct. They are for when the camera is at 0 0 0, and you are looking at a b c, and you need rx ry rz. The rx ry here are calculated using partiviewangles.m and the rz are computed manually (i.e. we want a rule giving rz) and are therefore approximate.

a b c rx ry rz
1 0 0 0 -90 -90
-1 0 0 0 90 90
0 1 0 90 0 0
0 -1 0 -90 0 180
1 1 0 45 -90 -90
1 2 0 63.4349 -90 -90
-1 2 0 63.4349 90 90
1 -2 0 -63.4349 -90 -90
-1 -2 0 -63.4349 90 90
-1 2 3 147.6885 -18.4349 -32
1 -2 3 -147.6885 18.4349 148
-1 -2 3 -147.6885 -18.4349 -148
1 2 -3 32.3115 -18.4349 -32
-1 2 -3 32.3115 18.4349 32
1 -2 -3 -32.3115 -18.4349 -148
-1 -2 -3 -32.3115 18.4349 148
1 2 3 147.6885 18.4349 32
1 3 2 126.6992 26.5651 32
2 3 1 126.6992 63.4349 68
2 1 3 164.4986 33.6901 68
3 2 1 147.6885 71.5651 80
10 1 2 174.3996 78.6901 90
4 1 2 167.3956 63.4349 84
3 1 2 164.4986 56.3099 80
2.5 1 2 162.6539 51.3402 76
2 1 2 160.5288 45 71
1.5 1 2 158.1986 36.8699 64
1 1 2 155.9052 26.5651 50
0.5 1 2 154.1233 14.0362 30
0 1 2 153.4349 0 0

There was lots of leftover beer from one of yesterday's night talks - we helped ourselves to some of it, and now our fridges are filled.

Other discoveries: coconut-heavy thai curry must be eaten in moderation.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Cycling in the woods

Decided to get off my ass, put it in a saddle, and get on it again. Then I had to decide where to cycle to --- I figured a nearby town called Bebenhausen, since I had about 90 minutes of daylight left at 8.30pm. This meant going through a forest. The first sign I saw said "Bebenhausen 1.5km". The second sign said "Bebenhausen 1.9km". The remaining signs I saw -- and there are quite a few ones missing in the forest, even at crossroads --- didn't say Bebenhausen anywhere. I was completely lost, and kept cycling, hoping to find a small town somewhere.

After about an hour, I bumped into the first soul I'd seen since I entered the forest. It was Tom Lal, from my department! I haven't seen too much of him, so he recognized me, not vice versa. (I'm terrible with faces...) Turns out that I had traced a large curve, and was pretty close to the start. I cycled with him and his running pal for a few minutes (good runners, them) and discovered we had another mutual acquaintance in Chicago (Altun) - and that the forest we were in went on for 15-20km in directions I could have taken - before we got to a main road, and they pointed me home.

Surprisingly, when I got back to a road I knew, I found I had didn't have any more uphill cycling to do. On my way into the forest I passed this nice steep downhill stretch, and was really not looking forward to coming back up that way. The alternative way we'd come skipped that (now) uphill patch, which was really nice. It's a lot easier to have a gentle uphills for a long way, mixed in with a few downhills, than a sharp uphill.

I never did find Bebenhausen. That's for another day. Maybe.

Now I better go take a shower. I've found a couple of bugs from the forest on me, and while I've removed the visible ones, there are probably others.

Tuebingen music, GHMM, Partiview angles, UZ

There's been a music festival in Tuebingen the last two days. Good fun, though I only watched a couple of hours each day. In both cases I cycled down - a mental breakthrough since I've not wanted to cycle down when there are lots of people around - and of course pushed the bike up. I've given up being embarassed by having to push the bike up. It's f*ing steep, and I'm f*ing unfit. C'est la f*ing vie.

Been making a lot of progress understanding what Gunnar's been up to with his GHMM. Turns out he was anticipating a lot of the Hofmann/Altun/Tsochantriadis and Taskar et al stuff with his framework, and then settled on a method that theoretically doesn't make use of all information available, but is faster and works just as well - at least on his problems. It requires the solution of a sparse linear system with thousands (in some cases hundreds of thousands) of variables and constraints, which CPLEX is happy to solve. Unfortunately, CPLEX ain't free, so I can't use it in a general open source toolkit I plan to write in the next two weeks. We'll find out.

The Argentinians want another animation for their movie on the Pierre Auger Project, based on the past ones I've made, including ones I made in the last week. Unfortunately, this requires my being able to make smooth flypaths in Partiview. I've not known how to do that the past 18 months, as I've been stuck on the following problem:

Suppose I want to place a camera at position x1,y1,z1, looking at x2,y2,z2. Partiview requires you to specify x1,y1,z1 and some rotation angles Rx,Ry,Rz that define where the camera is looking to. Yesterday I finally figured out how to compute Rx, Ry and Rz! Here's the Matlab script. There's certainly a proper, well defined way of doing this with lots of matrices, which Stuart's tried to explain to me, so this is definitely a hack. But it works.

I'm back in touch with some people at my old undergraduate math department at the University of Zimbabwe. It's amazing how many people are still there, despite all the economic woes. (We're talking here about a country where people long to get back to the days when inflation was only in double digits, where unemployment is over 70%, life expectancy is under 40, etc.) And a couple of my friends have gone back there after getting their doctorates in the US and Norway. One of them said he was subsidizing his stay there by the money he earned lecturing in the US for three months following his graduation. Wow...

Monday, July 11, 2005


Talk about new words... Ira Berkow writes in today's NYT, in an article about consummate White Sox base stealer Scott Podsednik,

While the White Sox have some power in the lineup - Frank Thomas, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye - the team relies on speed, on defense, and on pitching in, well, underwhelming, but nevertheless whelming, the opposition.

Today I've been whelmed by a bug that won't go away. On the other hand, I did work out the Lagrange optimization equations for SVM Regression.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Vegetarian Travails

While most of us have simple rules that we can use when eating, such as "if it is not moving, I'll eat it" or the safer "if it is not moving, and it does not look like it has been moving in the last ten minutes, I'll eat it", several people have more complicated rules. Take vegetarians, for instance. The only thing that veggies, as I affectionately call them, agree on is that they can't eat mammals. Some self-proclaimed veggies eat chicken. Several eat fish and seafood. Vegans, the purest and more annoying people to have lunch with, don't eat meat products - no milk, butter, yoghurt, eggs, etc.

Link: Vegetarian Taxonomy, by the Pure H20 Gazette

Veggies have a rough life when travelling. A veggie friend of mine recalled his visit to Lyon, the French culinary capital for carnivores, with horror. "In each restaurant, it would take ages to ask the waiter what they had on the menu for vegetarians. Most of this time would be spent explaining the concept of `vegetarian'. In one place, the waiter, once he finally understood that I didn't eat meat, wanted to touch me to see if I was real. He had heard rumours of there being such a thing as vegetarians, but had never believed that they really existed."

Such stories make me glad I am only a vegetarian between meals.

Of course, many people ask me when we go to restaurants if I am, since many ethnic Indians are. After much unsystematic experimentation, I have come up with an answer that usually ends up in a conversation like this:

Friend: Do you have any, um, dietary restrictions?
Me: Oh, yes, of course. I don't eat iguana.
Friend: Sorry?
Me: Iguana. I don't eat iguana. You know, that lizard thing?
Friend: Er, right. Have you ever eaten iguana?
Me: No. I don't eat it, remember?

Of course, my friend is really asking the question "Have you ever been in a situation where you could have, if you were not restricted dietary-wise, eaten iguana?" Similarly, I am really giving the answer "Wrong stereotype, bud."

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Another trip to Stuttgart

I hadn't realized snarfing was a crime. Snarfing and cracking someone's computer - that's different, but plain vanilla snarfing? Someone just got arrested for it!

When I went to Aspen last year for the E&O Workshop with the Smiths, we didnt know where to go exactly once we got to the town, so we moved around the houses till we got a wireless signal on my laptop and then found the website for the Physics Institute where we wanted to go. Snarfing saved us that time.
Joined a couple of friends, and a couple of their friends, in Stuttgart today. We initially planned to go to the BrazilFest but when we heard it was 40 euros, went to the free jazz concert in the main park instead. The picture to the right is from an interesting ad for Camel cigarettes. If you don't see why it's interesting, keep looking.

Hmmm... catching up on my MyDD reading. There's an interesting - and scary - post about rabid anti-muslim comments on right wing blogs. Also check out the comments on that post. Ich mochte ein beer. (Actually, I'd like something much stronger, but don't yet know how to say that in Deutsch.)

While sitting in the central park in the shadow of the building shown here (we couldn't figure out why there were people walking around in it) listening to jazz/rock/stuff, Lutzi and Sathya tell me about their very cool group trip to Kiruna in Sweden.

There's an ice palace or something like that in Kiruna (home of Sweden's iron mines, and above the Arctic Circle). Its bar is sponsored by Absolut Vodka - which I had no idea was a Swedish company!- where you could get as many vodka refills as you can drink before your glass melts - it's made of ice too. Apparently it is highly recommended (skin detoxicating, etc) to go diving into snow in -26 degrees after 20 minutes of a steaming sauna. And it doesnt hurt. Even if you do it in bikinis and shorts. Though it might cause people from other group trips just returning from dogsledding and all wrapped up in parkas to get a shock.

This is the first time in my life that I've ever bought more than a single newspaper at a time. Desperate for dead-tree news in English to read during the week while in my internetless room, I picked up the weekend editions of the Guardian, USA Today, IHT, and a couple of British newspapers I hadn't got before.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Made a couple more animations for Auger. Got lots of work done this week, including using a suggestion of Gunnar's to speed his code up 18%. He was happy but disappointed that it wasn't more. I'll have to go look back at it to see if there was something I can speed up.

Lots of people around here seem to be aiming for SIGGRAPH '06 papers. It seems strange to me to be aiming for conferences months in advance. Speaking of which, I submitted the paper on dialog act classification to ASRU after SigDIAL rejected it (the reviewers gave it a 11, with the more knowledgeable ones scoring it higher, but it needed a 12 to go through). I took the reviewers' comments into account in writing the new version, and used some of the ideas I had while working on Gunnar's stuff, so though ASRU is a different conference, it has a fair chance of getting in.

showing how different kinds of statements can be separated by text and prosodic features

They're shutting down the computers tomorrow. Oh well, I'll be in Stuttgart watching War of the Worlds and the Brazil fest.

Mark reports some interesting work with the SVMs on his data - they are making better predictions than people thought was theoretically possible with the available features. Interesting.


You know, I think that when a camera company decides to sponsor the photograph gallery at the Chicago Tribune website, I don't think they meant to have it say "London bombings ... sponsored by Ritz Camera".

Meanwhile, I'm a little worried about one of my friends, a researcher at University College London who hasn't responded yet to my emails or phone messages about whether he's ok. He's normally a super-fast email responder. I hope he's at a conference or something,

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Paris 2012? Non...

Since the Brits learnt better from the Americans how to do last-minute lobbying than the French did, and because of Tony Blair willing to take three days off his packed schedule to travel a few thousand miles to do some personal lobbying, London will host the Olympics in 2012 instead of Paris.

Hopefully, this will mean improvements in the Tube, such as multilingual "Mind the Gap" signs.

I've found a couple of interesting quotes from newspapers describing the aftermath of the process.

I have been to London a number of times, and know that it will do an exceptional job as 2012's host city. King William will invite President Rodham Clinton and Vice President Obama to sit in his private box. The opening ceremony will feature very good music by Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney as their nurses push their wheelchairs into the stadium. --- Mike Downey, Chicago Tribune

"By late morning, Louis Troise was one New Yorker who did not realize his city had lost. He had to learn it in the worst way, from a reporter who simply blurted out the raw facts. He took the news well. It helped immeasurably that he had not yet heard that New York had submitted a bid for the Olympics. -- N.R.Kleinfeld, New York Times.

The Guardian reports on a Madrid-London, or more accurately, a Samaranch-Coe deal, that helped swing the vote. Note that both Madrid and London organizers had denied the existence of such a deal beforehand. Plenty of good stuff on how, to quote Daley Thompson's T-shirt (he has a history of interesting, and not always PC, t-shirts), "Seb and Co put the Great back in Britain".

The Guardian also reports in depth on London's superb presentation that stood out from all the others. You can find it on the BBC London 2012 site.

Meanwhile, Neil Chandler in the SF Chronicle writes that

In the normal course of events, we Brits would by now be indulging in our real favorite sport -- a grumbling, blame-seeking inquest. ... We prefer to retreat to the sidelines and moan how we never manage to get anything done.... But it dawned gradually that another time-honored British tradition did indeed fit the occasion: laughing at the French...

So how sweet to see the French president with oeuf on face. Even sweeter was the thought that his careless sideswipe at the blameless Finns -- that their grub's even worse than ours -- may have cost Paris the Games. London beat Paris by four votes. Two more votes for Paris would have meant a draw. Two of the International Olympic Committee voters are Finnish.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Martina's Ten Point Plan

Martina Navratilova, Wimbledon legend (and the only person playing before 1980 who is still playing!) has a nice list of proposals to shake up tennis. She writes about them in the Guardian, in the article 'Players need control to bring about change'

  1. Thou shalt not grunt. Maria and Venus, hear this. (Actually, I didn't realize grunting makes it harder to play at the net.)

  2. Simplify the game.

  3. Minimize injuries

    • Play only nine months a year.
    • Standardize hard courts. Make very hard courts just hard.
    • Standardize balls.

  4. Allow players to display larger sponsor logos on their shirts. (I had no idea they weren't allowed to do so - that's shocking.)

  5. Get drug testing straightened out. Meaningless and minor drugs are being treated the same as real major drugs.

  6. More money for players. (Again, lots of new details here.)

  7. Have tournament organizers compete for the rights to host tournaments.

  8. Raise prize money. Again, it's amazing that there are that many journeymen like Stephen Huss who still bother playing tennis, when you read of how little minor players (i.e. most players) get.

  9. Women aren't equal to men yet. Why no women's wheelchair doubles? (Actually Martina, this was the first time they held one for men's wheelchair doubles - it was an experiment by the Wimbledon organizers, right? Are there more men's wheelchair doubles players? That said, presumably next year... and anyway, how come you didnt mention the fact that women's prize money is less than men's, at least at Wimbledon? Or is it ok since the men play best-of-five and women best-of-three?)

  10. Unionize.

Wimbledon Doubles Roundup

Question : when was the last time two players who played on opposite sides of a Wimbledon Final played together and won the next year?
Answer : 2004/5. In 2004, Last year Cara Black and Rennae Stubbs beat Liezel Huber and Ai Sugiyama in the final. This year Cara and Liezel beat Amelie and Svet. Cara becomes the first woman to defend her doubles title in eleven years.

"After winning the Wimbledon title with Rennae Stubbs last year, the petite Zimbabwean has formed a strong new partnership with 28-year-old Huber. Black impressed again with her quick feet and fast reactions at the net; whilst Huber, who potentially was playing the first of three matches today, was matching Mauresmo and Kuznetsova from the back of the court... What Black lacks in height - she is only 5ft 4in - she makes up for in tremendous pace and powerful returns."

Meanwhile, the official Wimbledon website has been paying more attention to doubles these days. with articles about the SA-Zim combination's progress through the last eight (QF, SF, Finals). Excuse their writing style, which is even more stilted than mine.

So have the players, at least among the women. notes that "of Ladies' Singles quarter-finalists... all but Maria Sharapova entered either the Ladies' Doubles or the Mixed Doubles tournament."

In general, Wimbledon does treat doubles folks better than other tournaments. Another example is the men's tournament, which this year came up with, in the words of the Guardian's Richard Jago, possibly the most unlikely result in the whole of Wimbledon's history. Is he including Becker 85? Well, maybe including that too. After all, he'd won Queens the same year. I doubt that any bookie had any odds on Huss and Moodie before the tournament started, and they must have odds on BB.

Stephen Huss and Wesley Moodie's 7-6, 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 win over the American brothers Bob and Mike Bryan, the recent world No1s, was the first time that qualifiers had won a Wimbledon title, but there were other outlandish aspects to it. Huss had been considering quitting the game, while Moodie had had no partner. After they joined up for only their second tournament together, almost as an afterthought, Moodie hurt his back and came close to telling Huss to find someone else.

Moodie's fierce serve and burning presence allied to Huss's nimble dexterity at the net and relaxed vibes were a wonderful example of how abilities which complement each other and co-operate become more than twice the talents of two individuals.

It happened the same week that the Association of Tennis Professionals announced a shortening of the doubles scoring system. The purpose: to stop lesser known players winning. Enjoy them while you can.

I'm not sure if that's the purpose. The purpose is definitely to encourage more top singles players to play - the question is whether they will actually be better at doubles than the "doubles specialists". Doubles isn't singles. It's much more interesting, for a start. And if tournaments did more to promote the doubles players, they wouldn't be as "lesser known".

Good to see doubles being promoted more. Hopefully other tournaments will learn from Wimbledon. As Huss commented (on some news report I can't google any more), it is the only grand slam tournament to still have qualifying rounds for doubles. To put this into perspective, read this article in the Aussie Age which says of the former Auburn student:

Yesterday's commanding 6-4 6-4 6-4 quarter-final win over third seeds Michael Llodra of France and Mark Knowles of the Bahamas on centre court was undoubtedly the highlight of Huss's humble career.

Note: that says quarter final. That article was written before the semi-finals.

The Bryan twins deserve sympathy. They have been runners-up at all three grand slam tournaments this year, and must be wondering what they have to do to win.

Mixed doubles news: Mary Pierce, legendary grass hater, won. Together with Mahesh Bhupathi. That makes their defeat of my favorites (Wayne and Cara Black) much easier to take. It's okay to be knocked out early in the tournament to the eventual winners.

In other minor news, Federer won again, as did Venus Williams. It's strange that she'd been written off (at least in my mind) when she was a finalist just two years ago. Presumably the womens' rankings at Wimbledon next year will take into account past Wimbledon's perfomances - if they had, Venus would not have been ranked 14. The men's ranking already did, doubtless so that Henman would get a higher rank than normal. (Actually, I'd suggest they take into account all grass court tournaments, not just Wimbledon.)

Oh, and Jayant Mistry became the first British man to win a Wimbledon title since Fred Perry before World War Two. That's a great trivia question, innit? I didn't know you could play with wheelchairs on grass. Full credit to the Wimbledon organizers for trying it!

Unrelated stuff: been getting some strange comments on the article on Wikis for Summer Schools and Workshops that I posted on John's website. I've asked him about it.