Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving in Köln

Here's a surprise - Germans don't celebrate Thanksgiving, hence no four day weekend to sit in our pajamas and watch Season 4 of The Wire (as we did last year). Instead I went to Bonn to give a talk at the Max Planck Institute of Mathematics. There are many different Max Planck Institutes around Germany for different subjects. The math one in Bonn is housed in a beautiful building in the middle of the historic center. The Institute employs a few permanent mathematicians and has many visitors come for extended stays. In addition they also have workshops throughout the year. I had attended a few talks there this summer and had seen the one infamous guest already. This man attends most of the talks at the institute and has some knowledge of mathematics (self taught perhaps?). Anyway, he reads the abstracts to all the talks and then spends some time reading up on each subject so that he is familiar enough with the vocabulary to pose a question or make a comment. Unfortunately, his questions don't really make sense. Quite a character indeed. After a nice lunch and time discussing some of my other recent work with people there, I headed back to Köln. The trip home lasted a little bit longer than the 25 minutes it took me to get there, but that was just because I spent an hour in H&M, leaving with a new dress. Quite a different shopping experience than Black Friday in the states. No turkey for us that evening, but some delicious fish (though sadly no leftovers). Hope everyone had a wonderful day!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Recently Played: Burial

As you all probably know, Chris is the one that discovers the new music. I simply rely on his judgement and load my computer with his advice, especially when it comes to "work music" which roughly means about anything that doesn't annoy or distract me in a good or bad way. In the last two days I have listened to nothing but Burial, mostly the new album Untrue. Unlike Chris, I don't really have much to say other than it is hot, hot, hot! And fortunately there isn't much to say about the artist, since his or her identity is a mystery. So with that, enjoy!
Burial - Archangel (2007)

Winter is Coming

The last few days here in Köln have been a little chilly. The winter coats, scarves and hats have become an everyday outfit. Chris claims to have seen some snow falling from the sky, though my only experience with it so far has been at the university, where some snowboarding club brought in a pile of snow for a demonstration of their skills and it has yet to fully melt. Two conclusions can be drawn from this: 1) it is cold here, 2) German universities, like American universities, have some crazy events going on at them, though at least at German universities, the funny events are accompanied with a stand selling kölsch and sausage as "snow treats." However, the snowboarding exhibition was accompanied by Green Day music from 1994, which caused a very unpleasant afternoon having When I Come Around stuck in my head. (Don't worry, no link to that song here.... though if I was clever enough to record myself singing it, that might be worthy of a link.) It looks though like it might start to get a little warmer here in the next few days. Thus I'll have to wait for another chance to freeze my ipod (something I did last winter in Seattle accidentally, when I learned that taking an ipod on a run in December can be detrimental to the ipod, and if that happens I probably should not have been out running anyways, but I digress).

Like in the US you know winter is coming by the number of Christmas goods in the stores. We've seen a plethora of advent calendars and decorations in the grocery stores, and the Weihnachtmarkts (Christmas Markets) start in the next few weeks. We've put up some wintery decorations (an early Christmas gift from my parents), though I'm sure I'll convince myself that they can stay up year round. Below is the art project I conducted on our wall. It was a "Kelly only" project, which meant that there was very little measuring and absolutely no levels involved, and I think it came out just grand.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Recently Played: The Icemen – My Girl (She's a Fox)

The above pic's been popping up all over town this week, and I thought maybe somebody'd get a kick out of it. It's not a complete non sequitur - all will come full-circle soon enough, kein angst.

This week the credits roll on something like a 70-day-long, high intensity internet hunt. Though it strolled past as casually as a flash animation mortgage refinance advert, I didn't fail to notice that an mp3 of The Icemen's “My Girl (She's a Fox)” had made a very rare appearance within easy capture range. Recorded in 1966, its good solid soul but, much like the writings of David Foster Wallace, generally discussed for its footnotes.

(1) Guitar contributed by Jimi Hendrix.
(2) Catchy hook straight stolen by Amy Winehouse for her 2007 “He Can Only Hold Her.”
(3) Catchy hook, seemingly by coincidence, also stolen by John Legend for his 2007 “Slow Dance.”

It was the second item that particularly excited me. I confess to something of a full-blown addiction to Winehouse's Back to Black. They tried to make me go to rehab, but... aw, skip it. Back in June I was stunned to discover how much her “Rehab” borrowed from Aretha Franklin, and this here be another example of her comfort with brazen soul citation. Oh and also I'm apparently the last person on Earth to notice that the tune of her single “Tears Dry On Their Own” is effectively a minor rework of Marvin Gaye's “Ain't No Mountain High Enough.” But I digress....

Though “My Girl (She's a Fox)” stands up steadily without the support of its music trivia tripod, let's not go calling this an enduring lyrical masterpiece or anything. We're not talking Solomon Burke here, but a treasure all the same. Submitted for your evaluation:

The Icemen – My Girl (She's a Fox) (1966)

Nice, no? But what's that going on at the end there? In the final 30 seconds we get, “She's a fox now (My baby)/ My baby, she's a stone fox/ My baby, she's a stone fox...” I hafta dig the use of the not-at-all-dated term “stone fox,” and I have a sneaking suspicion that Aaron will appreciate too. But brace yourselves, because then we hear, “My baby (Yeah), she's a fizzox now.”

Fizzox” ?!? Is this 1966? or 1996? I'm prepared to acknowledge that I may have misheard this word, and that I've let my imagination run away with me. But if I'm not? Could it be that we have yet another footnote to add here? Could this prefigure Snoop Dogg's most cuddly verbal trademark? I mean, I knew he didn't invent it, but in my wildest dreams I'd never have imagined it went all the way back to 60s pseudo-Stax soul or, for that matter, Jimi Hendrix's pre-fame career. Fascinating.

And just for good measure, here are those aforementioned Winehouse and Legend tracks:

Amy Winehouse - He Can Only Hold Her (2007)
John Legend – Slow Dance (2007)

Thursday, November 8, 2007


I've been in the Bavarian town of Bayreuth for the past few days, visiting the university here. The university is relatively new, founded and built in 1975, and unlike the University of Köln, it has a self-contained campus, much like American universities. I don't have pictures of my main reason for the visit and the most exciting part (for me), giving a talk Wednesday morning and spending the day discussing some of my research with people there. No major breakthroughs, but confirmation that what I'm working on is a hard problem (which I guess is better than easy). I suppose I could have taken pictures of beautiful german blackboards - the norm here is to have double boards, so that you can slide the front board up, hence keeping all that you have written visible, and thus doubling your board space. These exist in some classrooms (mostly large lecture halls) in the US, but here they are in every seminar room. And the german boards stay much cleaner, since instead of using a standard chalk eraser, they use a wet sponge and a squeegie, genius!

I arrived late Tuesday afternoon and saw the main market in the evening. I stumbled upon a cute restaurant that evening for a nice, but lonely, dinner by myself. I must have had good taste, since that was the same restaurant we went to Wednesday evening. Later I learned that this restaurant is in the building of the Altes Rathaus (old City hall), so a popular destination for tourists and locals.

Thursday I had a chance to see a little more of the town, made famous by Richard Wagner. In fact, the Wagner Festival each summer is really the only time the city sees any tourists, where there is a ten year waiting list to get tickets.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Entertaining Guests

It's been a while since we've posted anything.... sorry about that... but we've been busy entertaining. My parents came last week to visit, as our first guest couple. Chris was the most wonderful host, and started by picking them up at the airport on his last day off of class. While I finished up a school week, Chris showed them around the university.

We spent the weekend wondering around the city, tasting kölsch and other fine food (though not so much German), and making some delicious dinners.
By Monday morning, my parents were ready to see some more of Germany (and let us attempt to get back to our daily routine) so they headed south to the Mosel River to visit Trier. They returned Wednesday night, and I was able to take off Thursday to show them some more of our favorite spots, including the Nippes Market. We stumbled upon a fantastic coffee shop/roasterie (anyone who knows my family won't be surprised by this). There was some absolutely wonderful coffee, and before long we noticed that every old woman who walked by the shop stopped for a moment and stared. Turns our that the shop, Kaffeebaum (literally coffee tree), was just a few weeks old, and the coffee roaster in the middle of the store made everyone who passed by take a second glance. Chris met up with us later that afternoon for lunch at the University Mensa, a definite site to see. We then enjoyed some fine art at the Wallraf-Rachartz-Museum.

Saturday we rented a car and first stop was Ikea. Fortunately we had better luck finding it this time than last time Chris and I searched. We got some wonderful early Christmas presents, including some great decorations for the winter season. Having a car made it easy to show them our old Marienburg place and the neighborhood of mansions there. Then it was back to Kaffebaum (Chris had yet to visit there and try the coffee). Being a Saturday it was quite bustling, but we did manage to meet and talk with everyone that was connected to the shop. We bought some veggies for a fish stew at the closing market and headed to Edka, a large grocery store by our place. Normally we don't have a car, so had never experienced the parking garage. It was your typical underground garage, with an elevator up to the store. Imagine our surprise when we all got stuck in the elevator with another couple. Eventually we got back to the garage and walked into the store. I believe this was a first for all of us, and luckily it didn't last too long.

Sunday we were up early (with daylight savings time it wasn't so hard) and headed to the Netherlands. Our destination was a fantastic national park that my parents had ridden their bikes through on their first cycle tour of the Netherlands. The large park is furnished with white bikes that anyone can borrow, so we grabbed some bikes and rode to the middle of the park to the Kröller-Müller Museum, a collection of mostly Van Goghs belonging to one of his great patrons. The art was fantastic and the setting beautiful. Though because of the cold weather, we didn't get a chance to explore the surrounding sculpture garden. Much to everyones dismay, we never really got lost on this trip and did find some good Belgian beer to have with lunch.Monday they headed back, via Amsterdam. It was sad to see them leave. We celebrated many a holiday in one short week. Who will be next to visit?