6 December 2007


Not entirely good news, but at least the removal of some long-lasting uncertainty. So it's at least something less to worry about during the Christmas holidays. Wonder what I am talking about?? Here's the long story.

I talked to the professor who has to decide whether I can waive some of the breadth requirements of the PhD program due to the courses that I already took back in good old Ilmenau. He instantly dismissed all of the math courses (you'll soon see why) as not being eligible and then we talked a lot about the algorithm courses that I wanted to use to waive my theory credit. The material that I had brought was not sufficient, so he kept asking questions which I couldn't answer to his satisfaction either. After all, I had already given him all the material that I had!

Finally it came down to one thing: he wanted to know how difficult the courses were! He said that a graduate course is only taken by the best of all the students who do undergrad courses and those students get much lower marks on the graduate course. Should I have told him that in Germany just the contrary is true? Obligatory courses filter students. Optional courses educate students. (Okay, this was largely exaggerated.)

Result of the meeting: I have to come up with some more supporting evidence that the courses are really hard enough. After all, the mark will go to my official transcript, so I understand that some caution must be taken. (Actually I have to ask whether the mark really goes to the transcript. Because if it doesn't, everything should be quite a bit easier to handle.)

So now why am I relieved nevertheless? There is still some really good news! Just after leaving that prof's office, I went the the grad office and the nice people there told me that my request for course reduction was granted in full extend! So I only have to take six courses overall for the PhD!

Well, it might happen that I still have to take more than six to cover all my breadth requirements. That's the pigeon hole principle reversed: how can I cover six areas with six courses if I am already taking two courses in each of my favourite areas?

So you see, some relief has taken place, but the race is still exciting. He, he.

28 November 2007


Tuesday evening there was a talk by someone called Marc, who had previously quit his job as a banker, because he wanted to work for something he believed in more, but he couldn't find anything. He wanted to make the world a better place, but didn't quite know how to do it. Until one day, he met a famous architect who had designed an environmentally friendly building and made money with it and suddenly Marc realised that environmentally friendly and economically viable need not be in contradiction. Thus Marc decided to found a web portal under the name of "rebearth" which he wanted to be a portal ("a hub") to "grow a world where 6.6 billion people would want to live in".

I think his main point is: most environmental and social reform organisations try to tell people how they should live and thereby they only upset the non-believers. The better way to improve the world is provide people with an alternative that I actually prefer and would choose voluntarily. Unfortunately he didn't have any good examples for this (except for that architect's building), so that he was basically preaching vaporware. (Although the basic idea is good, of course.)

I didn't like his talk too much, because it was very pushy. He tried to engage the audience and be interactive, but imho he couldn't quite hide the fact that he is a marketing guy. Marc is influenced by talks of people that had engaged and inspired him, but he himself did not give on that engagement and inspiration. I think that virtually all people who come to such a talk are already pretty convinced to want to improve the world and are just waiting for something concrete and tangible to start working on. (Incidentally this is an experience, which he himself once had: searching the internet for good voluntary work and simply being overwhelmed by information.)

Finally he presented an example of a project launched through rebearth which. It's the design and construction of a house "where you would want to live in" environmentally friendly, cheap and comfortable. This kind of reminded me of the "open-source car": initial idea of that project was to engineer a complete plan for a car which then could be built cheaply and royalty-free (i.e. not patent fees and license fees) in a poor country, possibly using parts of old factories imported from developed countries. But it's also about having fun and using open-source and the internet for something real. Check the site to find out for yourself...

Good luck to everyone who wants to make the world a better place.
And patience to all those who think that people "should" change...

24 November 2007

why are there so few women in science?


I'll dare to leave this article almost uncommented, waiting for your comments. I am really interested how you like it. I have some thoughts of my own on the subject (which don't contradict Phil's article) and which I'll post at some later time here.

How Wikimedia plans to spend donations

If you use Wikipedia as often as I do, you'll certainly have noticed the Fundraising banner on every of their pages. I needed some time find a place where the Wikimedia Foundation actually says what it plans to use that money for.
Here it is: Planned Spending Distribution 2007-2008

On their donation page, Wikimedia lists the following uses of donations:
  • $200 – We can make Wikipedia available in developing countries through DVDs, books and pamphlets.
  • $100 – We can pay for two Wikipedia Academy events in Africa.
  • $60 – We can send three students to our annual Wikimania conference.
  • $40 – We can deliver 100 million pageviews of free information!
The latter two points are covered in the above cited plan, the first two points are not. Perhaps I should ask them about that...

20 November 2007

ticket to fly / ticket without return

Ich habe meinen grausamen Plan in die Tat umgesetzt und für den 5. Januar ein Ticket ohne Rückflug nach Toronto gebucht. Als Ausgleich für die Familie werde ich dafür schon am Freitag, den 14. Dezember Morgens um 7:25 Uhr in Frankfurt ankommen. Am 5. Januar geht der Flug auch schon sehr früh, so dass ich schon am Freitag, den 4.1. nach Frankfurt fahren muss. (Am Montag drauf habe ich auch schon wieder eine Vorlesung.)

Ich kann jetzt also die Tage bis zum Heimflug zählen. Es gibt bis dahin allerdings noch sehr viel zu tun!

I can't believe this :))

In our packet switching class to today we listened about buffer size and the professor started by asking us how big we'd think today's router's buffers are. Since now one had a spontaneous answer to this, I volunteered by shouting "20 packets per line-card". Contrary to what I thought this did not remove the shyness from the class and the other students still didn't propose their guesses. Finally the prof asked each student by name and the answers slowly came in: 19 packets, 100, 2000, and the last students even guessed in the millions and billions.

The prof then started his lectures and after then minutes we learned the answer: it's about five million packets per line-card. I could be happy with this result, since I had made the first guess, but not the worst. Actually I thought it would be quite a waste to store so many packets, that's why I came up with the low number. (And also by the theoretical stuff that I knew.)

But on with the story. 15 minutes further in the lecture, the prof had a slide given the buffer size according to different formulas. With today's formula we get a buffer size in the millions, with tomorrow's formula we get a buffer size in the ten thousands and with the formula of the future, buffer size will be only about 20 packets per line-card. Yes, you read that right! 20 packets. That's just the same number that I guessed! What a strange coincidence. %-)

But it also shows: I have my head far more in the far future then in the now of the present. Actually, I didn't answer the question that the prof asked, but I answered the question that I am thinking about myself all the time. Not about the present, but about the future.

Thanks for reading this.

PS: Of course, I know that this event was basically chance. But it's still funny to think that I hit that number exactly. And everyone who knows me knows that I am really a dreamer of the future.

8 November 2007

Die Bologna-Lüge und wie ich damit umgehe

Liebe Leser,

gemäß der Erklärung von Bologna werden alle europäischen Universitäten ihre Studienabschlüsse internationalen Standards anpassen, um Absolventen Auslandsstudien und Auslandsberufstätigkeiten zu erleichtern. Wir haben also Bachelor und Master. Allerdings dauern diese 3 und 2 Jahre. Während in Nord Amerika ein Bachelor allein schon 4 Jahre dauert. Allerdings manche auch 3 und andere 5. Wo ist da der Standard?

Als ich mich hier für die Promotion beworben habe, zählte mein guter deutscher Diplom-Ingenieur nur als Bachelor und ich musste mich für den Master nochmal einschreiben. Gerade versuche ich mir einige Studienleistungen für den Master anerkennen zu lassen und musste dabei meine Vorstellungen um einiges zurück stellen. Erst hatte ich auf eine Anerkennung von 80% der Vorlesungen gehofft, um dann zu erfahren, dass ich sowieso nur höchstens 40% anerkennen lassen kann und das die Ansprüche ziemlich hoch sind. Keine Vorlesung darf auf einen vorherigen Abschluss angerechnet sein. Wenn die Leute das ernst nehmen, bin ich mit meinem Diplom echt bestraft! Ich habe ja länger studiert als jemand mit einem Bachelor der University of Toronto (4 Jahre) und müsste dann trotzdem nochmal genauso viele Vorlesungen hoeren.

Bin mal gespannt, wie die Sache ausgeht. Ich werde jedenfalls dranbleiben, denn auch wenn viele Vorlesungen hier sehr gut sind, bin ich doch zum Forschen hier und nicht zum Studieren.

Soweit sogut,. Wir werden sehen, was für mich dabei heraus kommt.

7 November 2007

touch German ground... and run away

hier eine Mitteilung über Flugkonditionen bei der Lufthansa.

Als ich nach Toronto kam, bin ich ab München geflogen, weil es nur von dort aus Economy-Tarif-Flüge gab, die schon Nachmittags in Toronto ankamen. (Zwecks Übernahme Zimmerschlüssel im Wohnheim.)

Lustigerweise geht der Rückflug ab Toronto über Frankfurt nach München. Natürlich möchte ich schon in Frankfurt aussteigen, weil ich von dort schneller nach Hause komme. Anruf bei der Lufthansa erbringt: Dies wird von der Lufthansa nicht unterstützt, weil diese sich strikt an die selbst-ausgedachten Flugkonditionen hält. Ich kann aber versuchen beim Abflug in Toronto die lieben Leute zu bitten mir in Frankfurt mein Gepäck zu geben, so dass ich dort dann einfach wegrennen kann. Wie schön.

Außerdem kann ich zum Preis von 100€ mein Rückflugdatum ändern (je nach Verfügbarkeit von Fügen, die Strecke muss aber ganz genau dieselbe bleiben, also TO - FRA - MUC)). Der Preis mag es wert sein, eine Woche früher nach Hause zu kommen. Und dann hoffentlich auch viele Freunde in Deutschland zu besuchen.

Also, liebe Leute, tragt es Euch schon mal in die Kalender ein! Ha, ha, ha!!!

27 October 2007

another cheap computer

149€ for a box containing a celeron system 512MB RAM, 512MB solid state memory, a DSL modem and router, plus special keyboard and mouse, compatible with all VGA monitors and some printers ('cause it runs linux).
sold by www.easyneuf.fr (subsidiary of neuf cegetel, a French telecom and internet provider).
and the open-source part is www.easyneuf.org (English and French).

and look what a great start menu they have.

cheap laptops for the third world.... and me

CBC.ca story about ASUS

they sell a laptop with Solid State Memory instead of an Harddisk for $199.
Obviously that's a good thing for less developed countries.

And why is it good for me? Well, only theoretically... I figured that if I'd ever write my own Operating System this will only be possible by sacrificing compatibility with all kinds of hardware. An OS written from scratch is best written for only one hardware. This means that every user of the OS has to buy that hardware. And that's why cheap hardware is essential.

Okay, I'll stop dreaming and go back to work.

20 October 2007

postal coincidence

Here's a story that happened to me, I am learning of it right now. My questions are: do you believe this? Can you explain this?

On about 20th August 2006 I sent a postcard from Munich, Germany to a friend in Taipei, Taiwan. I only had her office address so I sent it there.

On Saturday, two weeks ago (6th October 2007) I sent her another card from Toronto to her apartment in Taipei. Now, from last Tuesday to Friday she was away on a business trip. When she came back on Friday night, she got my card that I sent some days ago. She complimented my Chinese writing, since I had copied the characters comprising her address, like little pictures one at a time.

Now, today. Saturday. She went to her office and on her office table she found -- the card that I had sent over one year ago. It had arrived in the mail just the same week as my other card! Two postcard sent to two different adresses one year apart... arrive in the same week!

That's the story.

How can that happen?

16 October 2007

Facebook vs Big Brother

Having your Real Name, collecting some other information on you, gives a personal profile much more detailed than even the best intelligence agency could have done ten years before.
Things have change in the Internet age.
Fundamentally changed.

Do you have a Facebook? by Vishal Agarwala

the wicketh language

Dear audience,

for today's course, please read the paper Advice for Foreign Students Wishing to Pursue Graduate Study in Computer Science at UCSC by Jim Whitehead.

This paper is only the top of an iceberg, the big issue that I am thinking about. So let's just grab the main points:
  • the department of computer science at UC Davis receives many hundred applications from foreign students each year (my remark: so does the University of Toronto and many other schools in North America)
  • it is a lot of work to select students out of these masses and that's why students should write applications that make the selection fast and easy
  • taking international students is more expensive for a professor and demands more advisory work and more reviews of the student's writings, but still the finished papers of international students are usually not as good as those of domestic students.
You might feel that I am misrepresenting these points, but if you read the paper you'll see that he actually repeats them in the paper, so it can't be too unimportant.

Now, an emotional reaction to the paper: If I am, as an international student, going to be an extra burden for my advisor, taking up his precious funding money and his scarce working time, but my work will be worse than other student's work anyway, why then should I go to that great foreign university at all?

Of course, I see that for many students in many countries, going to an international university is seen as a way to get them a degree that will assure them a well-paid job and a save future. And I think it is okay for him, to inform those people about his side of the equation and encourage them to be more responsible when doing their applications. But has he ever thought what impact his writing has on the average shy genius, that wants to go to an international school just because that's the best place to nourish his interests and his talent? Won't that poor shy guy be quite scared by reading such a statement?

Okay, this was the top of the iceberg. When you've finished thinking about it, come on and dive into the deep water.

Imagine you are an international student doing PdD research in a great international university. What do you think about the suggestion that your research will be worse on average than that of domestic students? How important do you think is language for research?

For my part, the researches that I admire most, are also Great Masters of their language. And in Computer Science that means: Great Masters of the English language. Several people come into my mind whose writings I adore for their clarity and also their imagination when it comes to including "real-life" analogies or even making word-plays on idiomatic expressions. And it's true: most of the people that I remember for doing this are native speakers of English. Although there is one exception that I cannot forget, one French engineer who became not only a Great Master of Computer Science, but also a Great Master of the English language. Perhaps the latter is easier for life-savouring perfectionists. Like Bertrand Meyer.

I just can't stop wondering how people like Bertrand or some of my friends who are foreigners in Germany can achieve such a mastery of the language, being better writers and better talkers than many native speakers, while others can spend years of the life in a foreign country and still have some problems with basic communication!

Well, I see that not everyone can be as talented for languages as a Bertrand Meyer and Pavol Kurina. And I know that some people just get frustrated at some point, being misunderstand so often they perhaps give up on improving their language? And if I tell them how important language is then they feel even more bad about themselves and rather want to ignore the subject.

Okay, I know that I can write a positive ending here, but not at this time of day. Thanks for reading up until here and please come back soon to read my optimistic outlook which I'll hopefully write until then.

Yours sincerely,
Jack the foreigner

21 September 2007

kanadische Beobachtungen

Hallo Leute,

da ich mich so selten mit Neuigkeiten bei Euch melde, hier einfach mal eine beliebige Auswahl von Sachen. Wer mehr wissen will, darf Skype benutzen. Mein Telefon ist dem Sparfuchs zum Opfer gefallen. Ich versuche nämlich nur allein von meinem Stipendium zu leben. (Und will mal aus Neugier probieren, ob ich auch wieder mal ohne Handy leben kann. Und ohne meinen Laptop mit zu Vorlesungen zu nehmen, wie es so viele andere hier machen.)
  • Toronto erinnert mich in vielen Dingen an Taipei: viele Geschäfte sind Abends bis 9 oder 10 Uhr offen, einige Supermärkte 24 Stunden rundum.
  • Die Fußgänger-Ampeln sind bei Grün mit einem Countdown ausgestattet, kurz nach der Null kommen die Autos, so dass sich man immer weiß, ob man es noch 'rüber schafft und falls ja, wie schnell man gehen muss.
  • Das Kaufhaus, wo ich am ersten Tag meine Bettwäsche gekauft habe, ähnelte im Stil total demjenigen in den unteren Etagen von Wan-Tings Wohngebäude.
  • Genau wie in Taipei gibt es lauter 7-Eleven-Shops und andere so genannte Convenience-Stores, wo man außer dem täglichen Bedarf an Lebensmitteln und einem Geldautomaten auch warme Würstchen, Kaffee-zum-mitnehmen und andere Sachen zum Sofort-Verzehr bekommt.
  • Überall gibt es Klima-Anlagen, obwohl es hier überhaupt nicht heiß, sondern nur schön angenehm warm ist. In den Gebäuden hingegen ist es meist zu kühl für kurze Sommerkleidung, so dass ich oft einen Pulli mitnehme, um ihn drinnen anzuziehen. Das finde ich total blöd!
  • Es gibt eine große China-Town, gleich hier um die Ecke, wo es nicht nur lauter tolle Chinesische Restaurants und Läden gibt, sondern die Preise auch viel näher am Niveau Taipei, als am Nieveau Toronto sind.
  • Außer der China-Town, gibt es aber auch griechische, italienische, koreanische, jüdische und wahrscheinlich noch eine ganze Menge anderer Subkultur-Viertel. Was ich richtig cool finde, ist dass in diesen Vierteln sogar die Straßennamen sowohl in Englisch als auch in der Sprache des Viertels geschrieben (zum Beispiel in chinesischen Schriftzeiche oder in der lustigen griechieschen Schrift) stehen.
  • Milch gibt es in Tüten und dann ist sie viel billiger als Tetrapaks.
  • in unserer Wohnung, gab es nicht nur einen Reiskocher, der niemandem mehr gehörte, sondern auch einen Wasserkocher und eine Art. Plastik-Milchkanne, in die man die offenen Tüten hinstellt, damit sie aufrecht stehen bleiben und nicht auslaufen. Alle drei habe ich schon saubergemacht und verwende sie jetzt.
  • Ich habe schon zwei Mal süße-Soja-Suppe (Taiwanesische Rezept) mit dem Reiskocher gemacht. Das erste Mal musste ich wegwerfen, aber das zweite Mal war total lecker!
  • Mit Wegwerf-Besteck werfen die Kanadier fast noch mehr um sich, als die Taiwanesen (dort gibt es zu manchem Fast-food einfach nur einen Zahnstocher, auf dem man die Bröcken aufspiest und isst). Deswegen habe ich die Initiative ergriffen und ein Geschirrtuch zur Besteck-Tasche umgenäht und kann jetzt immer mein eigenes Besteck mitnehmen. Ein richtig gutes Camping-Besteck wollte ich mir ja schon für meine Reisen als Berater zulegen, habe aber nie etwas gutes gefunden. Nun also diese schöne, einfach, umweltfreundliche Lösung. Und die Aufmerksamkeit meiner Mitmenschen ist mir wahrscheinlich garantiert. (Übrigens ist die Informatik-Fakultät jetzt auch umweltfreundlich geworden und statt der Plaste-Becher am Kaffee-Automaten hat jetzt jeder eine persönliche Tasse mit der Aufschrift "Department of Computer Science" bekommen.
  • Obwohl Toronto ungefähr so groß wie Berlin ist, gibt es hier nur dreieinhalb U-Bahn-Linien und keine S-Bahn. Wenigstens gibt es in der Innenstadt noch einige Straßenbahnen. Ich wohne auch mitten auf dem Campus und das ist sehr nah am Stadtzentrum (und Hafen), so dass ich bis jetzt noch keine U-Bahn/Tram/Bus gebraucht habe.
  • Das bemerkenswerteste am Stadtbild von Toronto ist, dass selbst in City-nahen Bereichen Stadt die Gebäude nur zwei Etagen hoch sind und einen eher kleinstädtischen Character haben (keine durchgehende Fassade mehrere Häuser, unterschiedliche Höhen, ...).
  • Genau wie in Taipei, liegen fast alle Straßen in der Stadt auf einem rechtwinkligen Raster entweder Nord-Süd (vom See wegwärts, mit leichter Steigung) oder Ost-West, quasi parallel zum Ufer. Die Ost-West-Straßen werden in der Mitte von der "Yonge-Road" geschnitten und wenn der Straßenname auf beiden Seiten gleich ist, wird die Straße in eine XY East Road und XY West Road geteilt. Die Hausnummern beginnen "in der Mitte" bei Yonge mit 1. Genau wie in Taipei! Scheinbar werden die Hausnummern auch nach laufenden Metern Fassadenlänge vergeben, so dass zwischen zwei größeren Gebäuden meist auch ein Abstand in den Nummern ist. Deswegen sind dreistellige, manchmal sogar vierstellige Hausnummern auch ziemlich normal (viele Straßen behalten ihren Namen über mehrere Kilometer Länge). Yonge Street wird auch als die längste Straße der Welt bezeichnet, weil sie beginnend in Toronto als Highway 11 durch halb Kanada weitergeführt wird und dann 1.896 km lang ist.
  • Nun noch eine Sache, die überhaupt nicht wie in Taipei ist und überhaupt nicht wie irgendeine Stadt, die ich kenne. Nahe der Innenstadt verläuft der Verkehr durch einige größere Straßen, die Teil des Rechteck-Rasters sind und in diesen Straßen sind auch viele Geschäfte, so dass es sehr städtisch aussieht. In den kleineren Straßen dazwischen sieht es allerdings überhaupt nicht aus, wie eine Großstadt, sondern eher wie ein total ruhiger Vorort: keine Geschäfte, keine Menschen auf der Straße, nur lauter kleine Wohnhäuser mit Vorgarten, ein paar Bäume. Unglaublich. Das ist vor allem für Radfahrer total schön, weil man dann in der kleinen Straßen parallel zu den großen durch die halbe Stadt fahren kann und den Verkehr nur ab und überquert aber nie neben sich hat. Photos davon muss ich demnächst mal machen.
so viel für diesmal!

Why for(;;)-loops are bad


I am talking about the C programming language here, World's most portable assembling language. I don't object against for-loops that are different from C's (e.g. when you can write "for (i in collection) ...").

My point is simple. Consider the general form of the for(;;)-loop:

The semantics of that construct is:
INIT ; while(not COND) {BODY; DELTA}

Please note, that the last part is not {DELTA; BODY}. Or is it? Are you sure, you will always remember that well? Which one it is.

Why should I bother to remember a construct with four parts, when the construct with three parts (namely the equivalent "while" loop) will always work?

Of course, the for(;;)-loop is a nice idiom when doing mundane loops over data structures or simple counting from 1 to n. Or was it from 0 to n? Or to n-1? When doing it with "while" the one-off's are always easier to spot, because the semantics is very clear (invariants help).
If you really want an idiom, encapsulate the loop in the data structure module (ADT, class, ...). That's what functional and OO languages are good at. But when doing assembly-programming we better mind our fence-posts.

15 June 2007

film trailer: Truth in Numbers

if sometimes you feel lost and empty
a beam of light can touch your soul

if money rules the world and you don't like it
be part of something bigger, change the world

some pictures I have seen that touched me deeply
I mean the film trailer that is shown on this page.

revolution! or is it just a dream?

I am a dreamer and visions attract me.
I am a visionary and dreams control me.

Update: There's also the Video in which Jimmy Wales asks for donations to Wikipedia: http://wikimediafoundation.blip.tv/

1 June 2007

reticulum rex

I still don't know whether this is real latin language or just sounds like it. Rex used to mean "king".
Anyways, I just want to share that link http://creativecommons.org/. Not that I would need a license for any of the modest things I create. I just like how easy and straight-forward things are explained on that website. And I love the idea of having a license expressed in icons, in plain language, in legalese and in computer code!
Also, the comics and flash videos are really nice to view. A fine inspiration!