Another Baltic Beach

This was perhaps the last day of summer - the weather report is predicting rain and cool temperatures for the next week. Typical, when I finally have time for vacation, the weather turns bad.

The closest Baltic beach is in Åhus, although I've had a house in Sweden for 10 years, I've only ever been to the beach in Ystad 'cause friends live there.

On approach the beach has a bit of a "Fifties" feel with the sculpture and the hotel on the beach, as well as the ice cream shop. Åhus is famous for three things: ice cream, Absolut vodka, and potato chips, the perfect place for a vacation! There is a sign that they are building a beach handball field to open in 2007, that should be fun.

This is a bit wider beach than most, so you will end up having people behind you and people between you and the water. Looks crowded, until you remember how thick the crowds are at the Wannsee...

The water is colder than on Fehmarn, but is very flat, so you can go out quite a ways. There is a nice bridge that helps short-sighted people not stray too far away and is used by the local kids for jumping into the water. I do hope the water is deeper near the bridge than it is where I am swimming.... The waves come sideways, so you can do a lot of swimming in place. All my muscles are sore this morning from all that exercise...

What do Swedes do at the beach? Get a suntan, read, play volleyball or tennis, or play with their mobile phones! I would have thought the sun would preclude the use of phones for much more than just calling people, but many sat for long periods of time, smiling goofily into their phones.

It is interesting to see the changes in demeanor at Swedish beaches. In order to change into your swimsuit you used to have to drape a towel around you and do this silly dance so no one sees your "private parts". Some still do today, but there are quite a number who just let it all drop and then get into their swim things, much to the delight of many of the middle aged men in the area. It was interesting to see many women in bikinis who wear not only my clothing size, but even larger sizes. They just let it all hang out! There are, according to Sydsvenskan, even nudist beaches now in Sweden.

There are a number of sweet little painted wooden changing houses dotting the beach. People pay to rent one so that they can change in a bit of privacy and then lock up their valuables. Not a bad idea, and it looks so nice with all of the different colors.

On the way home there is this bicycle parked in the middle of the pavement. It takes a minute
to register what the problem is. I don't really think that this is made for cross-country biking,
or for the Tour de France, but I bet the bike seat doesn't get stolen!


The Baltic Beach

Ah, the Baltic Sea! How I miss it in Berlin. Yes, we have water in Berlin, the nasty Spree, the wide Havel, the Dahme. But the wonderful Baltic Sea is something special, dear to my heart. It has always fascinated me, no idea why, as I was born far inland in Western Pennsylvania, where there was not much more water than the Connequenessing Creek.

The first glimpse of the blueness comes on the way to Fehmarn, rounding the bend coming off the Autobahn 1. Going over the Fehmarn-Sund-Bridge shows loads of people enjoying the water on their boats and surfing boards, tents pitched on the beaches.

The first exit and some small streets bring us to Wulfen, a popular camping spot. I must admit a good bit of trepedation when entering a camping area. I don't really care for having so many people on so little ground, even if they now have electrical outlets on every camping space so you can have a little electric coolbox and an electric grill and even a laptop if need be. My sister-in-law insists that the crowd of rambunctions young men with the cases of beer will be soft as lambs after 22.00 or they will be kicked off the place. I don't know, an ambulance came to pick up one of the bunch after a drunken fight broke out during the afternoon...

There is a long peninsula here at Wulfen that divides the area into two - one, to a very shallow bay, is wind surfers paradise. Here even small kids can learn to windsurf. Some fall down constantly, but that's okay, as it is not deep. Others have figured out how to make it go, and are clipping right along. Far out a few braver (sillier?) ones are kite surfing - this lifts you out of the water on big gusts. Scary.

The other side of the peninsula is the Baltic - and a classic Baltic Beach it is! Big boulders give way to a small strip of white sand, just enough for one family collection of towels. There is a tangle of seaweed and lots of little and larger stones at the surfline before you get soft sand under your feet.

The water is unseasonally warm - 26 degrees! I've been swimming in the Baltic at 19 degrees (not stayed in long, but just to be in the wonderfully salty water). Wulfen is also very flat on the Baltic side, you can walk out for 100s of meters before you are up to you chin. The water is refreshing despite being so warm, and it gets cooler as you get in deeper. Three swans come floating by, wondering if we have bread or other goodies with us.

The sun is warm, I dry off quickly in the sun (getting a bit of a sunburn where I missed putting on the suntan oil) enjoying the view of all those nice-looking lifeguards. Compared to Tropical Islands there are many more good-looking guys and gals here. We have to leave in order to get going for Sweden. Our nephew gets his windsurfing certificate, so he now belongs to this elite circle of more-or-less athletic folks.

I read a sign at the reception as we are getting an ice cream before going - they even have a WLAN set up at the beach. Now, if they could just get the electrical outlets out behind the stones, I might even consider spending more time at the beach!


The Vending Machine

It is hot in Germany right now, too hot.

I had just had two oral examinations in a stifling hot room with the sweat pouring down my back. I passed a vending machine and remembered that I had forgotten my own water bottle. They had water (terribly expensive BonAqua, but still: water), I tried to puzzle out the price. It looked like 1,25 Euro, which is a scandal. At my school they take 1,05 WITH deposit for water, the same size and brand.

I dug through my coins, I had 1,30 in small change. Okay, dumped it all in, pushed the button. Nothing happens. I push harder, nada. The display shows 1,30. Fine, that's what I put in. Then I spot the sign: all drinks 1,50. 1,50! That is highway robbery, I'm not paying that, I'll stick my head under a faucet or go thirsty for prices like this.

I look for the button to return my change. Nothing. I press all of the buttons, first gently, then hard. Nothing. It just looks at me. I press everything even remotely resembling a button, but still nothing. I root through my coins for a 20, but the smallest coin I have is a 50 cent piece.

Okay, bitter about this hold-up I put the 50 cent piece in. It now blinks 1,80 at me, I press the water button, and it obligingly dispenses the bottle. It blinks 0,30, and then returns something to me - 20 cents. I want to kick the machine, I press all the buttons again, but it keeps my 10 cents. So I end up paying 1,60 for the privledge of cooling off. Well, at least it is cold.

As I open the bottle (examination papers underneath my arm) the carbonation in the bottle causes a fountain of water to erupt. I really didn't need a shower, but now I have one, an expensive one. The examination papers get a little damp, oh well, I'll put that down to the candidate sweating. And I resolve to boycott Coca-Cola products.


Semantic Web - Reinventing the Wheel

Since computer scientists don't bother with history and can't stomach looking through all the stuff that has been published in the field over the last 50 years or so, we constantly have situations where people are actually reinventing the wheel, so to speak. Some examples:

  • Parsing was dead as a doornail. Compiler construction was being removed from curricula all over the world. Then XML shows up as a great way to transfer data between applications because the data is tagged to suggest semantics. I am greatly amused at the feeble efforts some start to try and parse these rather well-formed terms. People tend to be very surprised that there is acutally mathematics behind this (going back to the '50s!) that tell us how to parse, for example, things that can be expressed with a context-free grammar.
  • We've known how to set up good file systems with Unix for years. But Windows keeps making up new systems that are broken. Ditto for graphical systems, databases, operating systems, you name it. People just seem to start from scratch without looking at best practices.
  • The Semantic Web takes the cake, in my opinion. I am violently in disagreement with the opinion that one can set up a hierarchy of key words ("Ontology") for describing all of something. I have worked too long in library systems to believe this. If only people would look at how libraries look for materials, we would all be better off.
    Then they go about trying to "match" things. They use extremely primitive methods of matching, often using string matchers. There is an entire body of knowledge on the topic of string matching alone , of which many authors about the Semantic Web seem to be entirely ignorant. They completely ignore most of the work done in mechanical verification about term rewriting (a great book by Tobias Nipkow is "Term Rewriting and all That") and unification, both great mathematical tools for finding things that would be the same if we could force this bit to match that bit.
    Yes, I know. There is a lot of scary mathematics in there. Live with it!
How can we get our colleagues to really look at what has been done before before they start doing stuff? We seem to need to have a web of all the materials already published in computing, and then a semantic web to help us find stuff......

What attracts us?

Survived end-of-term. Just barely....

One of the projects that was presented was a system for matching people, that is, finding people on the system who have similar interests.

I started wondering if this is, indeed, what we really want. Are we looking for syncophats when we are looking for new friends? Of course, we like to share one or two interests with our friends, but not all of them! And it is not clear that I like all other people who are interested in, say, soccer or computers.

I had just seen a great quote the day before when I was looking for a new quote for my home page and found this on Wikiquote: "It contributes greatly towards a man's moral and intellectual health, to be brought into habits of companionship with individuals unlike himself, who care little for his pursuits, and whose sphere and abilities he must go out of himself to appreciate." ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

This I find to be so true - I learn so much more from friends who have other interests than I learn from being around people who are just the same as me. I asked one of the project members for the matching project if he could name one or two things that he and his best friends sitting next to him actually have in common, besides the same thing they are studying. They are all quite different people with quite different interests, yet they are best friends. He could not really find tags that would be unifiable in order to match these three if they had not known each other, but were all entered with all of their interests into the database.

Then Tagesspiegel had this article (which is now not online anymore, but Neon has a similar one, in German) about how women who take the pill tend to choose wrong men because their sense of smell is changed by the pill. Women with babies react to the smell of food, women without are attracted to men who are opposites because this widens the gene pool, so to speak. Women who take the pill simulate a pregnancy, so they are attracted to men for different reasons than they would without, and will not favor dissimilar men.

The old sage "Opposites attract" seems to be not only true for those seeking to procreate, but also for people looking for friends. So maybe matching services should include a little bit of "matches on this, opposite on this other" in their algorithms.


All that remains

It is over, the soccer World Cup. Berlin is returning to normal. The flags have been hauled in, the tattoos are fading, we start having to cope with the realities of higher taxes and a very bad reform of the failing German health system.

What remains of the party? Well, just like during the Wrapped Reichstag in 1995, Berliners have shown that they can be mellow and enjoy a great party. What escapes me is why they can't be like that more often.

Germans are resourceful, as demonstrated in this picture. Here we have a nice café garden with a new tent roof in white and black with a little screen (Neuhochdeutsch: Public viewing area). A rather wobbly table holds a little stand (grandly wrapped in a white linen cloth, Friedenau has style), a TV tuner, and antenna, and a beamer. Since all this equipment produces a lot of heat, and it is beastly hot out, a smaller table holds a fan that has had a collar taped around it to focus the air to the machines. I wonder what the TÜV (German technical overseeing board, they tend not to be amused) thinks of this...

What else remains? Well, we didn't get the subway that was promised us. But the S-train still announces the airport now in English as well as German. The grass will grow back in the parks near the fan mile, but only after they survive the Love Parade and Christopher Street Day, coming up the next two weekends.

And we proved to ourselves that we can still organize some stuff - although the little things still go maddeningly wrong, such as the soccer fields around town being closed over school vacation (so where are the next generation of German soccer players to learn how to handle a ball??).


I need a new category for something that is not a rant but just the record of an observation....

Sexist comments


Other topical lists:
Home girl life - Wikis - Plagiarism - Book Reviews - Didactics - 'Puter Stuff


The Kings of Our Hearts

Well, at least they made third place, otherwise the Germans would now throw themselves into a deep funk of depression to make up for all this frivolity of the past weeks of the World Cup. There was a sweet show at the Brandenburg Gate today (I only saw it on TV, I am not standing with 500,000+ people in 35 degrees C heat to catch a glimpse of the sunny boys - or to maybe catch a ball they kicked into the crowd).

Most of the players (especially Bastian Schweinsteiger, the one-man-goal-getting-machine of the last game) looked, shall we say, a tad tired? Like as if they had been partying a bit much all night? Whatever, they earned it. And as the party went on, they turned sillier and sillier, singing songs and Schweinsteiger "helping" the drummer of Sportfreunde Stiller (the singers of the new hymn "'54,' 74, '90, 2010") - the drummer gave him his drumsticks.

They all wore the number 82 on their backs and "Danke, Deutschland" on the front. This was far too intellectual for many of the fans, they had no idea what the 82 meant. There was a little "Mio" underneath - they meant "Thanks to all 82 million+ Germans who helped us these past weeks).

But by now we kind of know all the names of the guys. And Germany is still feeling good. I hope this lasts. I am proud of Germany - that they managed to be such a good host and such a good loser, still keeping their good humor. I mean, look at the change in Angela Merkel - could you have imagined her hugging and kissing ice-cool Klinsmann a year ago? Right - what a scene that was when she gave him his medal.

Now, back to work, Germany.

Jetzt wird wieder in die Hände gespuckt, wir steigern das Bruttosozialprodukt.
-- Geier Sturzflug


And now for the guys....

Okay, I've been writing too much about girls, time for the guys to get what's coming to them!

I was at Tropical Island over the weekend (without my computer, would you believe, but with some older c'ts and Atlantic Monthly mags). This is a large hall, built for a company planning on building zeppelins before going bankrupt, that was bought for a song by a Malaysian investor and transformed into a South Sea/Brazilian/Thai/WARM paradise. The air is 28 degrees, the water 28-32, and you can stay there 24 hours or longer if you want, hanging out in a bathing suit.

Bored without my computer and the Internet I thought I would do some guy-watching, seeing as how there were lots and lots of guys in various stages of undress walking around.

Let me sum it up like this: I think I know why the Germans are dying out.

There was lots of starch+sugar converted to fat on display, and not just the beer bellies and distended navels. There were guys with breasts some women would give their eye teeth for, and some with massive thighs. Guys with all sorts of tattoos: fancy ones, brutal ones, infected ones (yuck, I was sharing water with that one??). Guys with their heads shaved and guys who had not seen a barber in many a year. Guys wearing big, baggy shorts riding so low I wanted to hand out suspenders.

The occasional good-looking guy tended to be sporting a big, clunky, gold chain. Or smoking up a storm. Or both. Oh, the one dancer from Brazil was cute - he was wearing Brazilian flag underwear, which could be ascertained because his pants were riding very low, below the apex of his back end, held up only by, well, some forward anatomy. It was amazing to watch him move, I fully expected to see the pants fall at any minute (they didn't, maybe he used glue).

Ah well. Maybe they need to add a weight-lifting room. And try and police the very polite signs suggesting that everyone put on some shoes and clothes before heading to the food court.


Sexy girl II

I was on my way to my university by streetcar last week and got off just behind a young girl who probably attends the high school across the street. She was waggling her behind while walking, which made one see her outfit in all of its glory.

She was wearing a red bra (looked like velvet from the distance) beneath a black see-through, short sleeved shirt. That let you see her shoulder tattoo. Theoretically she was wearing long pants, but there were slits carefully cut into the back seat area that let her unclothed butt cheeks hang out. Technically, she was dressed; actually, she was mooning everyone walking behind her.

Imagine her being asked by the teacher to come to the board and solve a math problem. The guys in the classroom are not going to be able to concentrate on her derivations, the teacher will only see the sight when she sways back to her seat.

What, I wonder, is the reason for dressing like this? Is it a protest of some kind? Is she trying to make contact with some guys? She had earphones firmly in place, that kind of makes it difficult to initiate contact. Or maybe kids do it these days just with the flutter of an eyelid?

I mean, okay, we protested as kids with clothes, too. I deliberately wore pants to school, although this was not allowed, girls had to wear knee-length dresses. And in high-school I took my bra off the moment I left the house (this was a mathematical exercise, since topologically speaking it was not actually on me as it could be removed without removing the clothing above it, so I felt it did not count). But I never dared wear a halter-top to school or to church-related functions. And when I did wear one the first time on an outing, I got this horrific sunburn because I didn't use sun screen on the back .....

Funny, my favorite cartoon speaks about this topic today: For Better or For Worse
Okay, there is still plenty left for us to imagine.