September 19, 2017 Business trip to Thessaloniki!
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As I wrote in the article below, I could not get up early in the morning on the second day. My iPhone snoozes every 9 min when I don't get up. It is almost a wonder that this repeated for 2 hours and a half. At least I had a productive day with my work, attending a symposium about aluminium and titanium, none of which are my specialization though (mine is always iron based composites).
On the third day, I decided to skip the plenary session and hike. I woke up at 6am, took the bus 25 to cross the city. I started hiking from the last stop, after crossing a couple of quite large streets
While crossing these streets, I had to think back to my bicycle trip of 5 years ago. There were similar moments, that I had to take a certain degree of risk. Living in a risk-free society is a great thing, and we can be proud of having achieved it. However, the act of "living" becomes vividly precious, when the sense of real danger comes into your mind. I still remember, how much I felt the mere sense of living, in the middle of Gobi desert, in the dark forest of Georgia, in the ruins of Soviet era building in Croatia.
These thoughts were still there, when in front of me something large and brown crossed the path: wild boar. It must have been about 50m away, and it obviously didn't notice that I was there. I froze. In this barren landscape, it's not even clear whether I could protect myself in case I'm attacked.
I went ahead, nearing the bush where the boar disappeared from my sight. Just when I was next to it, I heard:
Well, that's not normal. I step back to the nearest tree. I tip quickly "wild boar Greece" in Google... "Greek Girl hunts wild board" "Wild boar hunting" "Hunting in Greece". Okay that's all nice to know, but I'm about to be hunted by a wild boar. What to do?
I decided to go. After all, going back entails anyway the same type of risk to some extent. As I needed some time to think about it, the boar apparently went away in the meantime.
I was spotting the nearby trees all the time for the rest of the day. The fear of being attacked in the middle of nowhere was not particularly comfortable, as there was literally no one there. And above all, I was skipping the plenary session. It's not quite right to say I was enjoying my stay in Greece while being paid by the French government for a different purpose (although the topic of the presentation was so different that anyway I wouldn't have understood so much there).
The place that I was looking for, Artemis, was way less spectacular than the place on the first day, with pretty much the same view over Thessaloniki. I would have loved to see the same kind of trail as the first day, because the paths I took were clearly created by cars. Besides on top of the mountain, I saw so much garbage, with dogs surrounding it (again...). Not really a cool place if you are a good hiker and looking for great nature.
Well, maybe I'm going to wrap up my whole stay here. I arrived at the conference after the hike just in time, although the room for my symposium was way too small, so that at least 80 % of the participants could not enter the room. This was also the case for me, even though I was really looking forward to this symposium. In addition, the food at the conference was horribly bad, wrong rooms were shown in the programme, the electricity went down when the city orchestra was playing music at the social event on Wednesday, the temperature was simply too high for me in Thessaloniki. All this together, I was not particularly happy during my stay in Greece.
All this saw a relatively unexpected turn on the last day. For this, I have to get back to what I was doing some years ago: to the request of my previous boss, Michel Perez, I was looking at the most stable state of iron carbon (Fe-C) system. During my analysis, I saw a quite particular phase, which we "provisionally" called Fe16C2, which, in my opinion, existed only in the mathematical model. This was indeed mathematically interesting, but there was no reason to pursue this study for me. So, in the presentation that I gave on the last day of my stay in Greece, I had to briefly talk about this phase, as otherwise the content was not quite consistent. I was essentially introducing this phase as a "problem" of our model.
With this in mind, I was quite surprised when a quite specific question came after my presentation about this phase. As it turned out, this was actually because experimental physicists DO observe this phase. And they were actually desperately looking for a better description, which I could provide.
So, in the end, I found out that what I was doing a couple of years ago was something real. And I will apparently go to Spain, where the experiment was performed, to clarify the rest of the stuff. This is going to be my first visit to Spain by the way. So looking forward to that :)
September 17, 2017 Business trip to Thessaloniki!
There have been some people who asked me so far, whether I ever work. Yes, I am a scientist. And as a scientist, I have regularly conferences and meetings, which often take place abroad. This time it was in Thessaloniki, Greece, which I visited last time during my bicycle trip 5 years ago. The economic situation in this country is still dire, just as I saw 5 years ago (or maybe even worse...). Yet my position has changed drastically, from a homeless to a doctor. Let's see what difference it makes.
My status and my personal life appear to deviate quite strongly to many people. Indeed, I have seen quite some world travelers, who wanted to get away from the established social system. And among the researchers, there are really not many who travel at the first place (which is the reason why they look so weird when they are in a touristic place like Thessaloniki). Some people might say there's very little overlapping between them. But I must say as an ex-world traveler, that enjoying the freedom is not necessarily incompatible with living with the established system. At the very least we cannot say the modern system is based on the idea of depriving the people of freedom, even though many people apparently believe that we cannot be free in it. The beauty for me is to enjoy the maximum of freedom, while being socially compatible. In the end, people from the 20th century may call me a hippie or a scientist. I'll show that the 21st century doesn't categorize things this way.
And that's how I surprise people when I arrive with one backpack at the Düsseldorf airport, where I arrived less than one hour before the flight, which was scheduled for 7am. And as always, the German transportation system failed hugely, making an at least 200m long queue at the check-in counter and the security control. The very reason that I still didn't miss the flight was because I didn't have any check-in luggage.
If you've been following this blog, you might be wondering now why I'm writing this at the first place, because usually I don't write an article when I go on business trips. That's because I decided to hike in Greece during my stay, as I remember (painfully) how mountainous the region around Thessaloniki was.
The great thing about my life at MPIE, where I work, is that some of my colleagues are like my friends. And there's this great guy, Visnawadt, who took the same plane as I (though he arrived at the airport more than one hour earlier than I). Since he didn't have anything to do on the first day (which was Sunday), he decided to join me for the hike.
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I was extremely busy in the last couple of weeks, so I didn't plan any hiking trail around Thessaloniki. Looking at the location of our hotels, I picked up a random starting point. Then I asked at Viswanadt's hotel which bus would go there. They seemed to be a little bit puzzled, as the location I was pointing at was in the middle of nowhere. Still, they told us that the bus 17 would go there. Later, I found out that the random location that I chose was actually pretty much the only one place which was accessible by bus and not too far away from the nature.
The bus system in Thessaloniki was a little bit confusing, as people usually do not buy a ticket inside the bus, where there's actually a vending machine which doesn't give changes, but we're supposed to do it at small shops. Fortunately, young people speak very good English in this country so we could manage to buy tickets quickly.
Last week in Germany, we saw a couple of days under 15°C. And it was never perfectly sunny. Here in Greece, the transition drastically arrived for me, as the maximum temperature surpassed 30°C. Summer came back, although it never really arrived in Düsseldorf this year.
And it had a tremendous effect on me, as I was not really used to sweating anymore. Together with the relatively barren nature mountains of Greek, the burning feeling on my skin was quite strong
As I was expecting beforehand, there was no indication of any hiking path in the mountain, although there were quite some paths there. I don't know if they were used historically or there are hikers there. Even though my openstreetmap failed completely in the city center of Thessaloniki, the paths in the mountain were relatively well listed, although some paths were truncated in the middle of nowhere. It made the feeling of exploring the area ourselves.
As you already know, I've hiked quite a lot in the last 6 month, but the region around Thessaloniki has nothing do to with Düsseldorf and its neighbourhood. I'm pretty sure that there are more complicated places, but the trail was quite the limit of enjoyable hike, never too much, but still quite challenging. I wish I could organize a hike like this in Düsseldorf, too (although in this case probably not everyone will make it to the end).
It took merely an hour and a half to get to the top of the mountain, which is just marked as "Kranos" on my map. We had to take a break every 5 min near the end, though. And it was particularly difficult to find a place with shadow.
Usually in the industrialized countries, you don't really see animals in the street (maybe except for birds). Here in Greece the situation is a little bit different. Everywhere in Thessaloniki, you can find street dogs/cats. I don't know how they arrived there, but as we found out there was several dogs on top of the mountain, that just went past me, quite uninterested. I didn't even really notice that there were dogs, until one of them actually attacked Visnawadt behind me, who started bleeding at his left leg.
The very reason that there were dogs on top of the mountain at the very first place is because there is one car street that leads there from the city, which is much longer than what we did. And people going there in their leisure time feed the dogs, intentionally or not, as there were plastic bags, cans, bottles everywhere. In fact, there were people there when we arrived, drinking beer. As they had some first-aid stuff, Visnawadt could be treated quickly. And according to their information, the dogs in Greece are vaccinated so there shouldn't be any problem. No idea how trustful this information was.
Being on top of a mountain is always a nice moment. While climbing up the mountain, there was virtually no wind, but when we arrived there, there was light breeze and a bit of shadow. After burning for about an hour, it appeared to me like an oasis. The view over the city was a little bit unclear, probably because of the vapour coming from the city. Still it was a great view.
After the hike, we directly went to the congress hall. It was not quite surprising that I had to sleep 11 hours after this powerful day.
May 20 New Page
If you live in France or Japan (and probably many other countries), you may not so much wonder whether the film you're gonna watch in a movie theatre is synchronized or not, because by default it isn't. Here in Germany, however, it is extremely hard to find a not dubbed film. So whenever you want to watch the original version, you must look for "OmU" which stands for "Original(-fassung/-version) mit Untertiteln".
Anyway, it is so much work every time to look for original ones. There are websites like kino.de which offers a search with this option, but it shows only the list of movies for a given day and not an overview for the whole week or so, even though there are only a handful of movies in whole Düsseldorf in OV each day (and it's stupid to have to see so many advertisements on every page). So, I decided to write a program that shows all the movies in Düsseldorf in OV on this page. Check it out and tell me what you think of it!!
April 14. Mystery of Tandem
If you've been following this blog, you certainly know that I downloaded an App called "Tandem" a couple of weeks ago. After writing an article about it, I had to delete it very quickly, as it turned out that I was completely wrong about the assumption, that it would be just used for flirting or maybe for fraudulent activities. To be honest, I was looking forward to some kind of trap, but this never arrived so far.
Still, there are couple of things that I don't understand well.
Firstly, out of the most recent 20 people who talked to me, 19 were girls. As well as I hate asymmetry, it appears to me like a huge surprise, maybe because on Tandem I offer German and Japanese. And both in Germany and Japan, there's a strong gender separation (it took me some time to get used to it again when I came back to Germany a couple of weeks ago). Indeed, generally it is interesting to see the number of girls and boys going abroad with an exchange program, because there are a lot more girls. Over the course of the immigration policy in the recent years here in Germany, the tendency was reported that it was rather the young girls who were open to accepting immigrants and old men were against it. So it is maybe not quite a surprise that simply the absolute number of girls learning language is higher than that of boys (although the difference is mind boggling).
But concerning the Japanese language learners, the distribution of nationalities is quite weird: I do understand that there are a lot of French people, because the mutual love of French and Japanese people originates from the 19th century and it is still an on going issue. For Brazilians, it is a different form but there's a similar reason. However, in spite of my initial expectation, most of the people who talk to me for Japanese are Italian... Well, I know that the Japanese culture is barely known in Italy. I was surprised to see that my ex flatmate from Italy had never heard of studio Ghibli or Miyazaki before knowing me. And more interestingly, even though they say they're learning Japanese, they never speak it. So in the end, it is rather a good exercise for my Italian, which is a good thing, but I'm maybe a bit tired of telling them that my favorite city is Cremona and how I learned Italian from the exchange students who forced me to understand Italian by never learning German here in Germany and talking to me simply in Italian etc. Here in Düsseldorf, I know a couple of Italians, like one doing her Ph.D in cryptography, although she's herself like cryptography. For the others, we never talked about Japanese stuff. Well, anyway I'd be curious about why there are so many Italians learning Japanese. Let me know if you have a clue.
March 17, 2017 Coursera community?
"Learning makes you stupid" was what I usually heard from my father when I was small. Fairly enough, homework was not something to do at home. And since I didn't do homework at home, I didn't do it at all. 20 years went on, now I'm a scientist. And my life is all about learning.
There was this bright guy Vitali I met a couple of weeks ago, who talked briefly about Coursera, which is a platform for online learning. Essentially, you can participate in university lectures for free. It's actually been a while that I use this website. Especially, I had a great course about Machine Learning from the university of Washington, which is now implemented in my code (and soon you'll see a great scientific article written by me while employs the techniques I learned). There were a couple of other courses I've visited so far: philosophy of physics, functional analysis, game theory etc. Yet I never considered coursera as something to talk about with other people, partially because I know that attending lectures at the university is not something normal people would do willingly. However, in this large number of people I've met so far in Düsseldorf there are maybe some who can share my interest as well. So it might be interesting to think about some sort of community, although I don't know what it looks like, maybe something like meetups for Coursera users? Anyway, Vitali and I are now there. Let me know if you are interested!