Sunday, May 27, 2007

Thursday, May 24, 2007

More from Minneapolis

Minneapolis has continued to impress. The city has some very nice architecture, which stood out more today because of the good weather. The smallest suspension bridge in the world was the smallest suspension bridge I've ever walked across.
The ICSE social event was quite frankly the best conference social event I've ever attended! How can I possibly ask for anything more with Segway rides, archery, tomahawk toss, and fishing from a kiddie pool??? (I didn't catch anything. It got really old in about, hm, 45 seconds.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Impressions from the Road

I've been on the road since May 20. May 19th if you count my little evening out in Portland with Dan. Here are some impressions:

-- Montana is surprisingly beautiful! Who'd have thunk? It has these great mountains surrounding wide, open farmlands. The sky really *is* big in Montana. I'd never want to live here. But I imagine I can probably spend a week hiking the mountains. Hardly any cars were on the road, particularly toward the end of the day. It's really odd to be the only one along a highway.

-- Even western North Dakota is beautiful, too! I'd always thought all these non-coastal states are boring. But it has really interesting landscape, with canyons and rocks of different colors. Although, I did have to drive through the most awesome but terrifying rain storm. I was still driving at around 11pm, and I was very close to my nightstop in Bismarck, ND. The sky was very cloudy. I could see lightening from 10 miles away as I approach Bismarck. As I got closer, lightening reflected off of the clouds were literally lighting up the entire space. It was mostly pitch black, interjected with flashes of lightening that made the place look like daylight. Then the rain came down *hard*. So hard that I couldn't even see out of my windshield. I had to carefully pull over because I was afraid I might drive off of the road! I sat in my car for probably less than 2 minutes, thinking to myself whether it's better to sit there in the dark, or brave the rain and get the hell out of there. I decided to get going, since sitting in the pitch black night by myself on the side of the road in the middle of *nowhere* seemed like an even more horrible option. I started the car. That's when I realized that I was actually shaking. I've driven many many miles back and forth across the U.S. This is the first time I actually felt myself shaking from bad weather. And I'm not the kind to get scared easily.

-- Eastern North Dakota sucks. I drove through more rain, and really strong wind.

-- Minneapolis is surprisingly impressive! It is actually a sizeable city! I really thought all the midwestern cities, with the exception of Chicago, are just pretend-cities. But this place actually has a pretty nice downtown, with lots of tall buildings! There's an incredible system of "skywalks" connecting buildings downtown. It is all on the second level above the street, so you can walk around the downtown area for *SEVEN* miles without ever having to step outside! This is all built because of the horrendous winters they have here. But the skywalk system is a total maze. I tried to go back to the hotel during lunch break to fetch my laptop, and I got so lost that what should have taken less than 10 minutes took me 20. The only way I actually found my way back to my hotel was because a nice man asked me if I needed help, while I was standing in front of a skywalk system map, probably looking totally exasperated. I told him I was looking for the Best Western Normandy, and he said, "Oh, follow me. I work there."

-- Minneapolis has 22 lakes *in* the city!!! I knew Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes. But I didn't know they meant it literally! Good God! I'm going for a run tomorrow along the Mississippi. Should be interesting.

-- Minneapolis has a bar/restaurant called "An Irish Pub". No joke. It's the most descriptive restaurant name I've seen since "#1 Chinese Buffet". But in addition to good Waldorf salad and Guinness on tap, it has a "Kissing Room". It is literally a room with swinging doors, "Kissing Room" written above the doors, a couch inside, red walls, and dim lights. I really think it is meant to be exactly what the name suggests. Is this an Irish tradition?!?

-- My German is rapidly improving. I know how to count to 10 now. I must be a language genius or something.

-- ICSE... My impressions of ICSE is available for payed subscribers only. But I will say that I am looking forward to the outing tomorrow evening on Nicollett Island! I can't wait to hop across the world's smallest suspension bridge, throw some tomahawks, ride a segway, catch some trout, watch an Native American dance, and dance with an Native American.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Operation Diet Coke

- Yannis just received tenure from University of Oregon.
- Yannis likes Diet Coke and uses it as the sole source of caffeine.
- Yannis has a sign on his door. On one side, it says "I'M IN", on the other side, it says "I'M OUT". He flips it over everyday to indicate his location, until more sophisticated GPS-tracking technology becomes more accessible.

The Idea Man: Christoph Csallner. Born and educated in Germany, Mr. Csallner has been working for years in the prank-making industry, trying to be the first German to break into the Billboard Top 100 of pranks. Despite of heroic efforts, Mr. Csallner has largely been unrecognized by both the critics and the public. Mr. Csallner is looking for Operation Diet Coke to be his break-out hit.

The Idea:
- Replace the sign on Yannis' door with one almost identical. It says "I'M IN" on one side, "I'M TENURED" on the other. *
- Stack up cases of Diet Coke against Yannis' door.

*Idea #1 comes from Michal Young, underground prankster cult favorite, now retired from the scene.

The Financiers: Christoph Csallner, Me, Tony Kay, Reimer Behrends. The first three are Yannis' graduate students. Reimer is a post-doc. The only actual Doctor among us. As it turns out, Reimer later proved to us that there really is a difference between having a Ph.D and not having a Ph.D.

The Logistics Woman: Me. I'm good at crunching numbers for the amount of fund, sending out emails soliciting fund and labor contributions.

Operation Diet Coke was officially kicked off last Friday, when we learnt that Yannis received tenure. The first step was making a replacement sign for Yannis' door. As it turns out, Yannis' sign was made with cut-out stick-on letters, stuck onto a piece of construction paper. We found an appropriate font in MS Office that looked close enough. A manila folder was used to glue print-outs onto either side, to make it feel more like it's made on construction paper.
Sunday night, we made the purchase of 24 cases of Diet Coke, 3 cases of Diet Coke Plus, and 1 case of Diet Pepsi. This was not easy. We had to ask a Safeway employee to go into the storage room to fetch us more Diet Coke. And we had to endure very strange looks from the cashier.

The actual stacking of the Diet Coke cases took three tries.

Version 1.0: stacked them straight up. Completely unstable.
Version 2.0: This is where Reimer showed us what a Ph.D. can really do. Reimer came up with a zig-zagged configuration that looked much more stable. We tried that. But as we were almost done, the whole thing started swaying. Not good.
Version 3.0: A slight tweak of Version 2.0. We kept the spirit of Version 2.0's zig-zagged design. But rotated the formation such that the stack leans against the door for support. Much, much better. It might even stay long enough for Yannis to see it.
The Result: Yannis showed up around noon, on schedule. He was happily surprised. The pranksters are happy.