30 November 2008

Nature in the City

Here's a nice bike ride:
  • From UofT St. George to Craigleigh Gardens (3.3 km). Here is one way to get there using residential roads: (some alternative routes are on the next map)

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  • Then up the Beltline Trail through the Moore Raving (2.8 km) and Mount Pleasant Cemetery (1.5 km, closed at night time!)

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  • Finally, back downhill, using the city's bike itinerary 35, passing through residential areas and dumping you off right on St. George street. (4.6 km)

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This makes a little more than 13km in total, thereof 4.3 in complete wilderness and parks and the rest on quiet residential roads. Busy Yonge Street and Mount Pleasant Avenue are crossed grade free and carefree. It's pure pleasure!

Edit: Google Maps doesn't centre the embedded maps like I tell it to. But you can find the routes by zooming in and dragging the map around.

28 November 2008

PhD advice

Ravin Balakrishnan of our department gave a talk on "How to succeed in Grad School". I think he's a very good presenter and certainly knows what he's talking about.
For my memory, I am noting his most notable points:
  1. Your supervisor is not there to supervise you, but rather to give you advice. Therefore he should be called "advisor". Every PhD student can only be responsible himself for what he is doing. (Ravin instantly convinced me of this and I am now using the term "advisor" exclusively.)
  2. Publish only in first-rate conferences. Second-rate is just not worth it.
  3. The "related work" section in your paper is to pay respect to those people who are most likely reviewing the paper. This is not a dirty trick, since there is too much citable related work out there anyway; you are just making a smart selection.
  4. Choose a risky research area. If it does not have possibility of failure, it is more likely to be development than research.
I have tried to evaluate my own research project according to its risk and I find that there is actually a lot of risk because I am claiming that my method will be able to do something which many people say is just not possible. (Namely, I am claiming that the grind-work of formal proof which others say has to be done automatically can in fact be done by humans and not be utterly boring. I am claiming that this actually trains humans and helps them also formally prove other things which computers can not (yet) automatically prove.)
But I have to admit, that I would probably not have the courage to pursue this risky road, were there not a safety line: no matter how well my little proof tool will fare in research, I think that it has relatively safe chances to be useful as a teaching tool. That's why I can sleep well at night. And still dream about and hope for some modest success as a researcher.

27 November 2008

Zahnarzt, Teil 2

Eine gute Nachricht in Kurzform: Ende August/Anfang September war ich ja zum ersten Mal in Kanada beim Zahnarzt, extra den Termin so gelegt, dass ein Teil der Kosten ins alte Schuljahr fällt und ein anderer Teil ins neue. Ich musste ja die Rechnung selbst bezahlen (insgesamt 886$, also ca. 600€) und hatte erwartet, das Geld von zwei verschiedenen Versicherungen erstattet zu bekommen. Der erste Versicherung hat die Praxis direkt die Rechung geschickt und ich bekam nach jedem Termin jeweils einen Scheck in der Post. Für die zweite Versicherung musste ich ein Formular in der Personalabteilung der Uni ausfüllen (weil diese Versicherung mit als Lehrassistent gewährt wird) und habe nun zweieinhalb Monate später mich langsam gefragt, wie ich denn an dieses Teil des Geldes komme. Meine lieben Kommilitonen haben mir das gleich verraten: es kommt mit der Lohnzahlung für meine Lehrassistenzstunden. Habe ich mal den Lohnzettel herausgekramt, den ich ordentlicherweise aufgehoben hatte und siehe da: mitten im dichten Zahlenwald steht ein Betrag, der das Wort Zahn enhält. Und das Geld war schön längst auf meinem Konto.
Nun habe ich mir mal die Zeit genommen, alle Zahlen aufzurechnen, um zu sehen, ob ich wirklich alle Kosten erstattet bekam. Und siehe da, es war der Fall: 886$ auf den Cent genau. Beim nächsten Zahnarztbesuch, kann ich dann etwas beruhigter sein.

26 November 2008

my first pun of the year

me: "My screwdriver is already looking forward to meet your computer."
room mate: "That sounds kind of scary."
me: "Don't worry. My screwdriver has never screwed up."

14 November 2008

Emilia Galotti -- an intriguing experiment

We went to Stratfort, Ontario, last weekend to see a German-language performance of this classic play by Lessing. Stratfort is a really nice location to visit. With a beautiful little Downtown area where the building facades reminded me of a town in the Wild West.
The performance of Emilia Galotti was very unconventional. I think that the company has omitted ninety per cent of the play's text and replaced it by pure acting! And for the most part this actually went well! The play started with what I saw as a sort of overture without any lines spoken and it took about ten minutes to the first scene where the first lines were said.
I am really loving the idea of replacing so much text with nothing but acting, because in those classical plays it is very hard to concentrate on all those long and voluptuous monologues and dialogs anyway. I have to admit, that much of the original work from Lessing is lost, because acting alone does just not convey the same messages as text. For example my friend told me that the original play contains quite a bit of Enlightenment philosophy, of which obviously nothing was obvious in the acting.
However, seeing people act on stage opens up lots of room for imagination! And I think I had enough background knowledge to interprete a lot of things.
My favourite scene was when Gräfin Orsina kisses Marinelli to death. They play it so nicely in three stages which smoothly transform into each other: first Marinelli is surprised by the kiss and frozen, then he slowly thaws and engages in the kiss and finally, you can see you she gradually sucks out all the energy of him and he falls down like an empty, dead body. I don't know which is Lessing's story that was used for this scene, but seeing it is truly impressive and shows how powerful the Gräfin is and how weak Marinelli. Cool!
One thing I didn't like about the performance is the exaggeration of many things, like lines that were delivered way to fast to understand well, or sometimes yelling that was too loud and not justified in my opinion and finally some of the slow movements were so slow that they seemed like endless stills from the balcony seats that we had.
But overall I think that the company's experiment in a "minimal text" performance was successful and worth our visit. Nice, nice!

11 November 2008

count-down to graduation (fingers crossed)

I have 34 more days to write my thesis. I haven't worked on it for a while because I studied so much Chinese. Now I will take my last class this Wednesday and then stop the classes. It just takes too much time and too much concentration away from my thesis. I will continue to practice at home and maybe with friends. Also, I started to make flash cards and I have to make more of them, with all the words that I have already learned but keep forgetting the tones. And I also need time to actually use the flash cards!
I have to get working!!

9 November 2008

Stuttgart 21 vs Bundesrechnungshof -- es wird teurer